There is an old saying in journalism that compares doctors and reporters. It says doctors can bury their mistakes, but reporters’ mistakes end up on the front page. Now, thanks to the pairing of medicine and virtual reality technology, doctors can virtually kill off all the patients they want without repercussions or the need for burials &mdasj; Reporters are still on their own. Modern doctors are making use of medical virtual reality, an environment with sights and sounds created by a computer, to train doctors and nurses in a variety of techniques and surgeries without exposing patients to a novice’s errors. Virtual reality also is being employed to help some patients overcome phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and also to train medical students.
Some hospitals instruct doctors in cardiac procedures using a three-dimensional simulation. The advantage is that surgeons learn in a hands-on realistic environment rather than through simple instruction. Similar medical virtual reality (VR) programs are being used to educate patients in methods of self-care, and also for continued training and recertification of healthcare professionals. The simulations can measure doctors’ competence in performing new procedures, often providing immediate feedback. Other VR applications help in the teaching of phlebotomy and IV insertions.
Additional virtual reality applications can be found in the mental health field. VR provides a controlled environment for the treatment of anxiety disorders, including claustrophobia and fear of bridges, flying, driving, spiders, thunderstorms, elevators and flying. Patients are exposed to the thing or situation that causes their anxiety in stages, but first they are coached in methods to decrease their response to the stimulus. Traditional therapy that relies on exposing the patient to the anxiety-causing stimulus is not always safe or easily achieved in a cost-effective manner, but medical virtual reality applications are changing the way exposure to a stimulus can be delivered.
Another area in which medical virtual reality is helping people is quitting smoking. A virtual reality game has been created and used with teens to help them find alternate ways to respond to triggers that cause them to reach for their cigarettes.
Researchers are looking at many areas where virtual reality can help improve a patient’s life, and autism is one of these areas. An advantage of virtual reality in this case would be the ability to reduce distracting stimuli, and researchers also would be able to recreate home and school environments, helping a child learn certain aspects of their daily living routines or social skills.