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Virtual and Augmented Reality are now a Healthcare Reality

The water is crystal clear and the sand is a beautiful white. You can hear the ocean waves crashing on the shore time and time again. Look to the left, and you see a group of people playing volleyball and having a good time. Look behind, and you see a mesmerizing jungle with waterfalls cascading down into a natural pool. Listen closely, and you can hear the call of parakeets and their wings fluttering through the jungle foliage. It looks like paradise, and sounds like paradise so where are you? Take off your virtual reality head set, and realize you’re sitting in your living room watching the snow cover the driveway you just shoveled. This is virtual reality.

Augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) is becoming increasingly popular in today’s modern world. The new technology being most known for its use in the Pokemon Go App is now evolving into new territories and applications. Medicine and healthcare has taken note of this upcoming trend, and has decided to fully engage in its endless opportunities and advantages. Before going into exactly how the healthcare and medical field can utilize this new technology, let’s first go over just exactly what AR and VR are, and what the difference is between the two.

Virtual Reality is the more intense and engaging of the two. By wearing a full headset, you are completely immersed into another reality. A computer-generated video simulation, along with audio to match whatever kind scenario you are in, gives you the full effect of actually being in a different reality. Like the scenario I described before, a VR headset can really put you into a whole other location whether it be a beach, mountain, mall, or anything else you can think of. With everything so realistic in the headset, it almost seems tangible. This is the point of the VR, to alter reality and completely detach yourself from the here and now.

So with that being said, what is augmented reality then? AR is taking computer generated visuals, and layering them on top of the existing reality. It is typically used by downloading an app on your mobile device that offers the AR feature. Going back to my example of the beach, let’s say you were still sitting in your living room and decided to try out your new AR app on your phone. The app could allow you to see palm trees standing tall in your living room, or perhaps a seagull flying through your kitchen. You still are seeing your whole living room, but images are being shown layered in front to make it appear as if they were there.

The names help to distinguish the difference. Augmented Reality is really only doing that, augmenting what you already see. Virtual Reality actually puts you in a whole other reality. Both have a myriad of uses, and both are very impressive to experience.

Now that we have a full understanding of what augmented and virtual reality are, let’s discuss how this is being used in the healthcare and medical industry.

VR is being used by doctors in multiple ways to help their patients. Surgical training, pain management, treatment for PTSD, exposure therapy, and meditation are just a few of the ways doctors are utilizing VR. Training new surgeons has always been a daunting task, but now VR can be used as a tool to help teach future surgeons. By putting on the headset they can actually be placed in surgical setting with a patient on the operating table. VR will allow them to see exactly what it will look like when they get to the real life situation, and what to expect.

Psychiatrists can use virtual reality for exposure therapy. Say for example you are deathly afraid of flying, but ironically, you have a job as an international sales person. Your psychiatrist can now offer you exposure therapy through VR. By controlling the whole simulation, a psychiatrist can calmly guide you through the flight in order to help you get over your phobia of flying. For people with anxiety a similar technique can be used. By setting the patient in a remote or peaceful location, they can have time to meditate and calm themselves, while forgetting about their anxiety.

Augmented reality is also being used as a tool to help their patients, and also their efforts as a whole. There are multiple AR apps for healthcare that can be used to better provide for their patients. AccuVein is an app that nurses and doctors can use to help locate certain veins for injections. The app can layer the image on top of the patient to help identify where the correct vein is for injection. Another AR app being used is Eye Decide. This AR app allows doctors to help their patients by showing them what their sight would look like with certain eye conditions. The app uses AR to distort or alter vision of the surrounding area.

AR is also a great tool for learning and teaching. Imagine being able to put up a visual of a skeleton to help practice learning the names of bones. Being able to move around the skeleton, look closer at certain areas, change the setting of which area you want to look at, are all things that could be done through AR.

I think this is just the start of what is to come for the healthcare and medical industry. Virtual and augmented reality technology will only continue to get more advanced allowing for even more application to the healthcare industry. If the trend continues, every doctor will be utilizing some sort of AR app to help their patients, and every doctor will have a VR headset to further training and education. The amount of opportunities for such a new technology seems limitless, who knows what it could be used for in the next 20 years!

References

Carson, E. (2015, April 8). 10 ways virtual reality is revolutionizing medicine and healthcare. Retrieved from http://www.techrepublic.com/article/10-ways-virtual-reality-is-revolutionizing-medicine-and-healthcare/

L. (2015, October 6). Virtual Reality vs. Augmented Reality. Retrieved from http://www.augment.com/blog/virtual-reality-vs-augmented-reality/

Rothenberg, G. (2016, July 14). 10 Augmented Reality Apps for Healthcare. Retrieved from http://www.medpagetoday.com/practicemanagement/informationtechnology/59072

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