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The health VR trends to track in 2022

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The possibilities of VR in healthcare are ever-broadening and 2022 is shaping up to be another year of strong progress in its development.  

From designing drugs to providing virtual rehab for stroke patients, VR has the potential to revolutionise medicine and rehabilitation – especially amid COVID’s lingering restrictions and challenges.

As the pandemic forced clinical leaders to rethink many traditional ways of working, VR’s appeal has only enhanced.

So, what’s next when it comes to VR in healthcare? Health Tech World looks at some of the VR trends to track in 2022.

Practice makes perfect

Surgeons, like any other professional, are constantly learning – and what better way to learn than to do?

In fact, the learning pyramid model, developed by the National Training Laboratory, suggests that people remember just 10 per cent of what they read, 20 per cent of what they watch, and 75 per cent of what they do. This is why getting users to perform actions and ‘do’ is really important, developing muscle memory as well as offering visual and audio reference points.

Immersive technologies such as VR and AR (augmented reality) allow surgeons to practice procedures in their own time, away from the theatre, at a fraction of the cost of more traditional methods of simulated learning.

Using headsets and a ‘digital twin’ of any given piece of medical machinery, clinicians have a safe space to fail and learn, ensuring any face-to-face training has a higher impact.

In real life

Beyond simulations, VR can also be used to give medical students a surgeon’s eye view of a procedure, without them having to be present in the operating theatre.

Japanese VR medical device maker Jolly Good, along with the Nippon Medical School, a private university in Tokyo, has developed a cloud-based clinical education platform that uses VR to save a recording of a procedure for future use.

The education platform employs Jolly Good’s VR system to delivers a virtual view of live procedures through a 360-degree VR camera, enabling continued clinical training and an immersive experience for learners.

Such technology has been increasingly used during the pandemic and as the world moves forward; a survey by the Japan Association for Medical Students Societies found that medical students have been missing out on physically examining patients, doing ward rounds, attending clinical practice and observing outpatients.

In the lab

VR can be used for training across the healthcare field, not simply for procedures.

In September this year, Liverpool’s DAM Health launched the world’s first virtual reality Covid-19 training laboratory.

The firm teamed up with technology educator Credersi to create a new course to train lab technicians, which aims to increase the number of technicians being trained to meet a mass skills shortage amid the Covid crisis.

The firm’s creator, Professor Frank Joseph, said: “The course and augmented reality we have developed will help to train the lab technicians of tomorrow and lead the fight against Covid-19 and any other virus or disease we may incur.”

For the patients

Children, understandably, will often feel anxious or nervous ahead of a medical procedure. However, research has suggested that VR can help, all with a simple game.

A study, led by Jeffrey I. Gold, PhD, an investigator at The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles, aimed to discover whether VR could prevent pain and distress for patients undergoing peripheral intravenous catheter placement.

Patients in one group played a simple VR game that required focus and participation throughout the procedure, while those in another group received standard of care, which includes simple distraction techniques and the use of a numbing cream.

The patients who used VR reported significantly lower levels of pain and anxiety, so much so that the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles now offers it routinely when drawing blood.

The technology is also being used for children undergoing MRI scans; a non-invasive procedure that is nonetheless frightening for children.

The MRI Stillness Game, a virtual reality game developed by healthcare technology manufacturer Reimagine Well and tested by the Miami Cancer Institute, prepares young cancer patients ahead of a brain MRI.

The game helps to train children to stay still and cope better with the loud noises and claustrophobic feelings that may be caused by an MRI. The result is a reduction in the number of children who need to be anesthetised, a better, clearer image that leads to higher-quality care and a shorter study time.

For mental health

VR has also been tested as treatment for mental health concerns such as PTSD, paranoia and phobias, with great success.

Now, Texas-based startup Rey has launched a commercial VR-based mental wellness platform powered by Oxford University’s Oxford VR.

The platform puts together individualised care and VR tools to retrain the brain, using a personalised combination of cognitive behavioural therapy, talk therapy, medication capabilities and VR.

For a long time, virtual reality has been largely the preserve of video games; now, it’s bringing its advantages to healthcare at every stage of the journey.

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