Dr. Sarah Murthi, surgeon at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, is wearing a futuristic headset that appears as if she is preparing to battle combat in a video game.
However, Murthi is assessing a volunteer’s patient heart as she gives a demonstration on how virtual reality (VR) will potentially play a role in the operating room one day.
Murthi’s human specimen a college student, Eric Lee mimics a real patient with blunt cardiac injury. The surgeon spreads gel over Lee’s chest then begins to perform an ultrasound. Typically, the images appear on a computer screen in the operating room, but this time they appear to Murthi in midair, right before her eyes. The VR headset provides her with an up-close, multidimensional view of the college student’s heart, mimicking a scene out of a science fiction film.
Many physician’s offices and hospitals, including Baltimore’s Shock Trauma, are testing and already utilizing VR technology in patient treatment. In fact, many clinicians are utilizing virtual reality to keep patients distracted during painful procedures, such as third-degree burn treatments. Psychologists are also utilizing it to treat veterans, who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. In this case, the patient will view a virtual reality video of a recreated traumatic event to help them learn how to face, learn and cope with the mental effects of combat experiences. Physicians are also utilizing the technology for robotic surgery and surgery simulations.
Chief quality officer at Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania and director of the Neuroscience Institute, Dr. Neil Martin, said he utilizes VR to analyze patients’ brains prior to surgery.
According to Global Industry Analysts, a research firm, by 2020, the virtual reality market in health care is expected to reach $3.8 billion. Recently, Deloitte, a consulting firm, listed VR as one of the top 10 health care innovations. It is often believed that the stimulated environments introduced through the VR technology could speed up behavior changes in patients in a much safer and more convenient manner.
The Virtual Reality Medical Center in San Diego utilizes VR exposure therapy as part of treatment for patients, who suffer from anxiety and panic disorders, including phobias such as fear of driving, flying thunderstorms and public speaking.
A team of researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, examined various studies that focused on the medial efficacy of VR technology in the last ten years and discovered that is still somewhat new, but very promising. Most of the findings from the studies revealed that the technology is “efficacious, easy to use, safe and contributing to high patient satisfaction.” The study was published in the journal Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience in January 2017.