The Doctor is (Sort of) In: How Virtual Reality is Training and Assisting the New Generation of Healthcare Workers

  • Virtual reality is helping a variety of industries including the healthcare industry.
  • Not only does virtual reality help healthcare workers on a daily basis, it also helps them in their initial training.
  • VR has also been influential in the field of psychiatry healthcare in order to help patients cope with PTSD or psychiatric disorders.

If the coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that our nation’s healthcare workers are the world’s real superheroes. Saving lives and making life better is all in a day’s work for them.

But even superheroes need a little help, especially when they’re learning to use their superpowers. Unfortunately, in a time of overwork and understaffing, it can be difficult for up-and-coming doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers to get the training they need.

If you’re a gamer, you know that virtual reality is big business. In fact, it’s estimated that the VR industry will grow to more than $30 billion by 2023.

Increasingly, though, virtual reality is proving to be a powerful tool not only for training but also for assisting inpatient care.

How Does It Work?

If you’re a gamer, you know that virtual reality is big business. In fact, it’s estimated that the VR industry will grow to more than $30 billion by 2023.

But virtual reality isn’t all fun and games. When it comes to the healthcare industry, virtual reality is also saving lives. VR allows healthcare workers and trainees to simulate patient care in ultra-realistic conditions.

Through the use of VR goggles and gloves, for instance, trainees can find themselves moving through a 3D environment — an operating room, an exam room, and procedure room — ”performing” specific tasks, from inserting an IV to injecting an epidural.

Best of all, trainees can use the VR technology to experience the look and feel of the actual procedure without putting patients at risk of injury or pain. The trainee can focus on learning the skill, without the fear of hurting someone — or worse.

The technology is turning out to be so effective as a teaching tool, in fact, that it’s even being used to train surgical residents. Because of the relatively easy access to VR simulations, young surgeons are now entering the operating room for the first time with far more “hands-on” experience than new surgeons of generations past.

Pandemic Prep

No doubt about it: the COVID-19 pandemic has put incredible pressure on a healthcare system already overburdened by increasing demand and a shrinking workforce.

To meet the surge in demand, healthcare workers in training are being fast-tracked into the field, others are being called out of retirement, and still others are transitioning into respiratory and infectious disease units from largely unrelated fields. And, increasingly, virtual and augmented realities are being used to help prepare these relative newbies for special care that COVID patients require.

When it comes to caring for highly infectious patients, understanding how to provide care in a safe and effective manner isn’t just going to protect the patient and the caregiver, but the community as a whole. Doing this successfully, though, requires highly specialized techniques, and that is something that VR training provides.

This ensures that the caregiver understands how to provide care under pandemic conditions, and can actually do it, before risking exposure.

Virtual and augmented realities are also proving highly effective for patient care as well.

Patient Care

One of the most exciting possibilities for using virtual reality in healthcare is not just its potential to optimize the training and preparation of healthcare providers. Virtual and augmented realities are also proving highly effective for patient care as well.

This is especially true for patients with mental illness. For example, virtual reality is showing tremendous promise for the treatment of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Through virtual simulations, patients with PTSD can be virtually “exposed” to scenarios and situations that typically trigger their symptoms, gradually becoming desensitized to the point that the symptoms are either extinguished or greatly minimized.

VR is also helping patients with other psychiatric disorders. For example, patients with psychotic disorders are experiencing relief from their anxiety and paranoia when VR treatments are combined with cognitive behavioral therapy and medications such as Ativan.

This works through exposure desensitization, making triggers less potent and debilitating. Above all, though, for patients with psychotic disorders, VR can help them learn to distinguish between what is real, what is simulated, and what is a symptom.

The Takeaway

Medicine is at once art, science, and service. It calls on humanity’s best and brightest to meet a seemingly endless need. The demands are great but healthcare providers are not alone. Today’s virtual and augmented reality technologies are proving immensely beneficial in preparing the next generation of healthcare providers for excellence in some of the industry’s most challenging fields, from surgery to psychiatry. In addition, in the face of a global pandemic, VR is helping to prepare a new wave of frontline warriors, from teaching new doctors and nurses the essentials of infectious disease control to preparing former retirees or specialists in other fields to make the leap to corona patient care. Finally, virtual reality is enhancing direct patient care as well, especially for patients suffering from psychological disorders. Those with PTSD or psychotic disorders can use virtual and augmented reality to treat their symptoms and build the quality of life they deserve.

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Frankie Wallace

Frankie Wallace is a recent graduate from the University of Montana. Wallace currently resides in Boise, Idaho and enjoys writing about topics related to business, marketing, and technology.

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