Series of Use Cases: Virtual and Augmented Reality in Healthcare

One of the biggest adopters of virtual and augmented reality is Healthcare. The potential of this technology is huge and includes surgery simulation, phobia treatment, robotic surgery, skills training and much more.

One of the advantages of this technology is that it allows healthcare professionals to learn new skills as well as retrain existing ones in a safe environment, without causing any danger to the patients.

We can identify use cases in four major areas:

  1. Patient experience – the regular checks and visits, classic telemedicine.
  2. Diagnostics and surgical planning and simulation.
  3. Surgery itself:
    1. Education and training in surgery, dentistry etc.
    2. The main VR&AR enhanced surgery.
  4. The post surgery patient care:
    1. Rehabilitation after a stroke and dementia.
    2. Treatment and therapies for depressions, PTSD, autism, phobia, pain management, addictions.

Patient experience – the regular checks and visits, classic telemedicine.

In some countries already available in others – welcome in the Stone Age – not. Even Skype calls with your doctor or therapist are still something rare. But times are changing, in Germany for example during the Medical Day a liberalization of remote treatment was decided on May 10th 2018.

In many rural areas of Germany, the majority of physicians in private practice are approaching retirement age, and telemedicine could be a suitable solution of mitigating the effects of the shortage of doctors expected in a few years’ time. But also the effect of patients that are becoming older and older (example the aging of Japanese society) and might be less mobile or have other issues not to leave their place.

The opportunity to check with your doctor online and not being exposed should not be underrated.

Diagnostics and surgical planning.

Virtual reality is also used as a diagnostic tool that enables doctors to arrive at a diagnosis in conjunction with other methods such as MRI scans or ultrasound. This lowers the need for invasive procedures or surgery and expands the possibilities like the students participating on such sessions.

VR ultrasound

Also a huge benefit is the remote cooperation which enables doctors, nurses and other medical personnel to interact with others in an virtual environment. They engage in training scenarios in which they have to interact with a patient but within a 3D environment only. This is an immersive experience which measures the participant’s emotions via a series of sensors.

Check out The Virtual Surgeon platform from Medical Realities  combining 360 video, 3D and interactive content.

Inside the operating theater a whole operation can be overseen through the eyes of the consultant surgeon. And this is just the beginning.

Virtual robotic surgery.

By extending the immersive experience with robotic surgery (in near future also AI supported) the human surgeon can be in a separate location as the patient. AI will reduce additional time and risk of complications, imagine a autonomous medical truck with full diagnostics onboard and a surgery robot. Again the aging pressure on rural or even underdeveloped areas will be mitigated.

Education and training in surgery, dentistry etc.

A great post on this area is on Venturebeat describing the “3D Definitive Human” project. This includes haptic capabilities providing feedback through hand controllers that can simulate routine procedures, such as giving an injection. Such force feedback for the surgeon is needed to be able to gauge the amount of pressure to use when performing a delicate procedure.

Virtual Reality in rehabilitation.

With the help of games technology, stroke patients can regain motor control via a series of small interactive tasks where the user has to pick up a virtual object or manipulate it in a variety of ways.

In dementia care, patients can already work with music, photographs etc. By adding an immersive experience, for example scenes from own childhood. Milestons in life, the patient can remember more and feel better. One impressive project here is .

Virtual Reality in palliative care.

Here of course AR can be used for tele support and tele diagnostics when the patients are sent home. VR is a phantastic tool to fulfill the last wishes of such patients. To visit one last time the Louvre or any other impressive place that makes the patient feel good and maybe let him work on the bucket list.

Virtual reality and counselling.

Counselling involves the use of different therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and hypnotherapy but computer assisted therapies are equally as useful. Virtual reality plays a part in that it is used to help people overcome a particular fear or coping strategies when faced with a stressful situation, e.g. public speaking.

Virtual reality in phobia treatment.

How does this work? The patient can be exposed under controlled conditions, knowing it’s just virtual and they are in a safe environment. The therapist or counsellor can monitor their reactions and adapt their treatment accordingly.

The aim is to find the exact trigger and to reduce their anxiety levels.

This is a step by step process in which the sufferer works their way through different scenarios which contain their situations and learn how to manage their fear and anxiety. These scenarios become more ‘difficult’ in the sense that the person is exposed to more of the source of their anxiety.

Various treatments already exist like:

  • Virtual reality treatment for agoraphobia – fear of open spaces includes the countryside, beaches, roads, shopping centres and cities.
  • Virtual reality and claustrophobia – fear of enclosed spaces.
  • Virtual reality treatment for arachnophobia – the fear of spiders.
  • Virtual reality treatment for tonitrophobia – the fear of thunderstorms.
  • Virtual reality and trypanophobia – fear of needles.
  • Virtual reality and Vehophobia – fear of driving.
  • Virtual reality and acrophobia – fear of heights.
  • Virtual reality and erophobia – fear of flying.
  • Virtual reality and social phobia –  fear of social situations, for example public speaking, where the sufferer imagines that they will embarrass themselves or commit some type of social faux pas.
  • Virtual reality and somatic psychology.
  • Virtual reality and sex therapy.
  • Virtual reality treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Augmented reality is another technology used in healthcare. If we return to the surgery example; with this technology, computer generated images are projected onto the part of the body to be treated or are combined with scanned real time images.

Augmented reality treatment for social attention problems.

Augmented reality is used to help autistic children with social attention problems. An autistic child often finds it difficult to read facial expressions, pick up visual cues or pay attention to another person when they speak.

What virtual and augmented reality does is to help autistic people to make sense of the world around them. They are taught skills or forms of interaction which we find easy but are complex or difficult for someone with autism.