When we think about virtual reality, we often immediately think about film and gaming. However, this technology also has wide-reaching applications for the medical industry.
Virtual reality can be used in patient care and can be vital for improving the patient journey. This disruptive technology is all set to change the patient experience in the next decade, but the applications aren’t altogether obvious on the surface. Virtual reality is useful in medical applications for the multiple reasons:
- It’s safe
- It’s cheaper than real world alternatives
- It helps to inform patients
- It provides a holistic alternative
Here are three ways VR will change medicine in the next 10 years…
1. Transforming Training
As cosmetic surgery advances, new procedures mean that surgeons need to constantly be training and updating their methods. Training can be done by observing, but this isn’t always the most practical method, particularly if a procedure is new or rare. By using virtual reality, surgeons can get in-depth training in a variety of scenarios without ever touching a patient. This will inevitably make surgery safer for everyone if doctors can rack up more practice hours.
2. Improving Patient Journey
For patients thinking about plastic surgery, the challenge their surgeon faces is ensuring that their expectations are properly managed. In the age of social media, it’s not uncommon for patients to bring heavily altered and filtered photographs to their surgeon. Operating on a patient with such unrealistic expectations in mind is only going to end in disappointment for the patient. Worst case scenario, the surgeon could even face legal action if the patient feels they have been misled.
With virtual reality, patients can have body scanning and then step into room of virtual mirrors to try on different surgical outcomes. Manchester cosmetic surgeon Gary Ross is one surgeon who utilises this with everything from breast reduction to mummy makeovers. He said: “Patients have benefited greatly from being involved in the selection of implants and has allowed patients to be empowered to proceed.”
3. Revolutionising Pain Management
For patients suffering from chronic pain, or those who are allergic to many forms of pain medication, virtual reality can offer a holistic pain relief.
When immersed in virtual reality, the part of the brain that processes pain is suppressed, meaning that patients experience less pain. Virtual reality is being used as a holistic alternative to opioid medication, which is addictive and has a whole host of side effects. For burn victims, many will experience less pain during restorative procedures if they are immersed in a snowy landscape made up of cool blue hues. For patients coming to terms with limb loss, virtual reality can also help them to manage phantom limb pain.
Although there is a long way to go with this type of technology, there are hopes that it will become more widespread over the next decade. It’s clear that there is so much we don’t know about the human body and brain, but virtual reality can help us to get closer to a better understanding. From training surgeons to helping with postoperative pain management, virtual reality has practical applications beyond film and gaming experiences. It will be interesting to see how virtual reality can be used to reduce reliance on pain medication and even help patients to take control of their surgical journey.
Rebecca Harper is a freelancer writer and trainee surgical nurse based in Manchester. She is passionate about the role of technology in disrupting the surgical industry and patient care.