Tech Talk Thursday: Virtual-Reality and Medicine

Tech Talk bannerWith Virtual-Reality (VR) Week being held last week in California and all the hype on awesome new VR viewers like the Oculus Rift the HTC Vive, you may start to wonder what virtual-reality has brought to world of medicine. You’re not the only one, and many have begun to explore this idea. The world of virtual-reality is exciting nowadays; technology has finally begun to reach the level of sophistication required to make VR useful to us…and fun as well of course!

Oculus Rift

Oculus Rift. Image credit: Oculus Blog

What might you discover if you were to search for VR use in medicine? Some are using VR for therapeutic care. At the University of Pittsburgh, an engineering student is using the Oculus Rift as an aid to help soldiers recover from PTSD. The student used software that placed the patients in themed cityscapes similar to the Middle-East or a location they would have witnessed trauma, as a way to stimulate recovery. The student hopes doctors and therapists in the country will want to adopt this technique for their own PTSD patients.

Geomagic Touch X. Image Credit: Geomagic

Geomagic Touch and Geomagic Touch X. Image Credit: Geomagic

Surgery is another area that is testing virtual-reality simulators. Leading that stampede is general surgery, while neurosurgeons are using augmented reality and image guided surgery. In molecular research, the Geomagic Touch X (formerly the PHANTOM Haptic Feedback device) uses a motorized stylus to explore a 3d virtual molecular structure. Once the 3D cursor meets a part of the cellular structure in the virtual interface, the stylus recognizes the object and creates a resistance, thus effecting a sense of touch for the user.

Right now there are a variety of VR viewers being used in medical simulations like the aforementioned Oculus Rift. Pediatric surgeons at Stanford are using EchoPixel Inc. for newborn pulmonary surgeries. An article from the Wall Street Journal believes medical training and education may be where the true value in virtual reality lies. In cases where some universities cannot afford cadavers, virtual reality may be a more economic choice.

There are also countless ways that virtual-reality is being used to help our health, education, and livelihood. TechRepublic has an article that lists how virtual-reality is revolutionizing medicine and healthcare. Some of the highlights are patient treatment of phobias with Exposure therapy, treatment of PTSD (much like the University of Pittsburgh student mentioned above), pain management, surgical training, brain damage, meditation…the lists go on and the possibilities are endless. Virtual-reality is no longer a gimmick used for attention grabbing games but instead is becoming (perhaps) one of our best tools in healthcare and education. Full integration of virtual-reality technology in these settings is still years off, however the path is definitely being cleared!


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