The use of extended realities (XR) in different industries is rising swiftly. And we can see examples of its usefulness in various sectors, from gaming to aviation. However, the healthcare industry is one sector where the uses and benefits could be more well-documented and publicized.
XR provides a range of tools that blend physical and virtual environments. Over the last decade, there has been a push to integrate these technologies further and further into the healthcare system, motivated by several benefits.
What is XR?
XR is the term for describing the virtual and real environments generated by computer technology. It is a tool to revamp how we interact with the digital world and can promote the interaction between the real and virtual worlds. This provides an immersive experience to the users. So, it is a combination of human-machine interactions through computer technology.
How is XR Improving Healthcare?
There are multiple benefits to integrating XR into the healthcare field, both for medical professionals and patients and their self-care.
As well as the benefits of using it to train and educate future generations of professionals, there are also some immediate benefits already underway.
Visual Medical Data Effectively
Augmented Reality overlays digital images and information onto the user’s real-world view. This makes it ideally suited to visualizing medical information.
One of the most impactful ways is overlaying anatomical data onto a patient in real life, showing their unique physical makeup and any target areas that need attention. For instance, an organ needing removal or a blockage needing clearing.
A simple example is AccuVein. This tool maps the veins onto a patient’s skin to help find veins more easily for injections and drawing blood. It has allowed medical staff to help find veins that otherwise may not be seen or felt, dramatically increasing their ability to find the vein on the first try.
Improve Treatments and Surgeries
Virtual Reality has a therapeutic effect on patients during treatments and surgeries, helping improve the overall patient experience.
In Brazil, VR has been used to help children overcome their fear of vaccination. Research shows that most children feared the needle itself rather than the pain it might bring. So VR was brought in to block out and distract from the hand. The project was so successful it was rolled out to a chain of pharmacies nationwide to help with vaccine campaigns.
In the United Kingdom, it has been used to help with surgeries performed under local anesthetic (anesthetic that numbs the body rather than putting a patient under). VR has proven to help these patients stay calm and relaxed during surgery by immersing them in calming landscapes. The trial was a resounding success, with 100% of patients saying the headset improved their overall experience, and 80% reported feeling less pain.
The positive effects of mindfulness and meditation on overall health and wellbeing are well documented. As such, many meditation apps have sprung up to help people meditate and de-stress, often using relaxing sounds and guided instructions. Some of these solutions incorporate VR to make guided meditations more immersive.
Guided Meditation VR is one such app. It comes with more than 100 ready-made meditations in beautiful virtual settings, such as a beach, a secluded forest, and even the top of a mountain. Meanwhile, gentle audio instructions guide you through various breathing exercises. If you’ve struggled with meditation because you can’t tune out the real world, putting on a VR headset and meditation app could help you block everything around you. I can certainly see the benefits of this.
XR has a wide variety of use cases across many industries, but its potentially life-saving effect in healthcare is arguably the most important yet.
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