Human simulations under a controlled environment have been able to place people in many different places and scenarios at the comfort of their own home. As early as the 60’s however, the use of Virtual Reality has been experimented with in the healthcare sector. Early on, the use of Virtual Reality or VR software was used to treat patients diagnosed with PTSD.
A case study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress (Vol. 12, No. 2, 1999), summarized the involvement of the Department of Psychiatry at Emory University School of Medicine and the Georgia Institute of Technology and determined that the therapies in Vietnam veterans with PTSD had a decrease in clinical severity after six months of VR treatment. Further follow-up sessions with the patients allowed the doctors in the study to find that these treatments had also decreased their depression. The case study paved way for a similar test performed by the USC Institute for Creative Technologies in which they created entire virtual environments for patients with PTSD from post-Iraq events. Similar to the Virtual Vietnam therapy, the Iraq patients were exposed to stimuli such as sounds, scents, sensations, and movements. However, visuals such as City View, “Flocking” Patrol, and Desert Road View scenarios were introduced to the therapy. The study found that of that less than 40% of patients suffering PTSD sought mental healthcare. This proved alarming, after diagnostic reports revealed that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder needs specific treatment and can rapidly become severe if left untreated. Further studies of untreated PTSD has been linked with substance abuse, anger management issues, and severe depression. The long-term effects of PTSD has become a topic of concern with VA benefits, as it is often difficult to employ or assist veterans who have found themselves addicted to illegal substances and in extreme cases, in a state of homelessness.
The use of the VR therapy has opened doors to serve as a “thoughtful professional appreciation of the complexity and impact of the disorder” by therapists treating patients with PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Further conclusions determined that VR is not intended as a self-help approach as treatment in the form of medications is still necessary in most cases.
(Photo courtesy of ICT at USC.edu)
On the healthcare provider end, VR training has played an increased role in the past decade. VR training and education has allowed students in the medical field perform “practice” surgeries and procedures and put students in realistic scenarios of their future roles.
Patients with severe phobias and anxieties are expected to benefit from VR treatments and the outlook for patients with autism and physical disabilities looks promising. Recently, VR scenarios and simulations has made its way to the pain management field. The University of Washington created a VR video game called SnowWorld, designed for burn victims to utilize as they endure painful routine maintenance. A study showed that SnowWorld in most cases works better than morphine.
The Cedars Sinai Medical Center has recently announced their implementation of Applied VR to their Spine Center. The primary focus of Cedars-Sinai will be creating diversions to patients as they receive their therapy instead of administering drugs.
The prospects of applied VR technology in the healthcare field are developing and growing every year. Offering an additional tool to both patients and healthcare providers will enhance knowledge and treatments and could potentially eliminate costs or replace outdated practices. Understanding the role of VR applications has milestones to overcome. With the right budgeting, implementation, and upkeep however, entering a new era of technology in healthcare is a step forward.
Written by Bettsy Farias, Researcher at Global Healthcare IT