Virtual reality has become a popular topic across all industries. In the field of medicine, researchers are starting to use virtual reality—specifically, headsets—as an aid to help patients. The headsets can be used to display events, scenarios, or other stimuli to help patients deal with mental illnesses, or help children relax during procedures.
In Australia, Samsung and Chris O’Brein Lifehouse, a cancer treatment hospital, are working with virtual reality studio Start VR to help ease psychological stress and provide a distraction from treatment. At Lifehouse, patients use VR to make cancer treatment sessions easier. Clinical staff supervise patients during their VR use to ensure their safety.
Complementary Therapy Director at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse Michael Marthick says, “Allowing patients to escape the experience of chemotherapy gives them a bit of space to forget what’s going on. In settings such as before surgery, patients are even more anxious. This gives them a distraction and allows them to keep their spirits up. Wellness isn’t just about the physical side of things, it’s also about mental wellbeing.”
At King’s College Hospital in London, virtual reality is being used to show children what to expect during MRI scans. The My MRI at King’s app gives children a 360 degree view of the sights and sounds of an MRI scan. This allows the child to get used to the loud sounds of the machine and practice keeping still for the actual scan. The VR experience takes the child from beginning to end: from entering the hospital to entering and exiting the scanner. A MRI Physicist at the hospital developed the app with help from the Neuroradiography Team and Play Specialist.
Researchers also have high hopes on using virtual reality to treat mental illness. The amount of people who have depression or anxiety has grown from 416 million worldwide to 615 million in 2013. The Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California is using clinical VR exposure therapy to treat mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Skip Rizzo, director for medical virtual reality at the Institute, says that VR has the potential to make a huge impact in healthcare. VR helps patients navigate their fears and experiences and control their responses without being in the real-life situations that cause them distress. The treatment, called Bravemind, allows doctors to monitor patient responses to different environments and scenarios. Virtual reality studios all over the world are also looking at providing these treatments, including studios in London and New York.
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