Unbound virtual reality

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Medical Applications Of Virtual Reality

Doctors use VR to solve the most challenging medical problems.

Do you also think that virtual reality is only fun for playing games? Time to wake up. The influence and technology of VR cannot be ignored from, for example, product design, real estate and others industries. Yet nowhere are the benefits of virtual reality more evident than in the medical world.

Dr. Sachdeva, Directeur Opleidingen van het Amerikaanse College van Chirurgen vertelt: “We zien hier steeds meer toepassingen met VR technologie, virtual reality heeft een omslagpunt bereikt in de geneeskunde.”

The benefits of VR are being experienced in various fields of medicine. Psychologists have used it successfully in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, but also stroke physicians, surgeons and others doctors have discovered in their own ways how VR improves their treatments. Sometimes the well-known headsets are used, other times they use 3D glasses or special video screens that give a VR-like experience.

The use of virtual reality or 3D visualizing technology is of course not new. Al sinds de jaren ™90 wordt gebruik gemaakt van 3D modellen van bijvoorbeeld organen van patiënten. But advances in computers mean that images can be made much more realistic - and much faster.

Röntgenfoto™s, CT- en MRI scans kunnen nu binnen een minuut worden omgezet in hoge-resolutie 3D afbeeldingen, volgens Sergio Agirre, CTO van EchoPixel. De visualisatie software van dit bedrijf wordt in ziekenhuizen wereldwijd gebruikt “Twintig jaar geleden zou zoiets misschien wel een week tijd kosten.”

1VR for complex operations

Some surgical procedures, such as removal of a caecum or caesarean section, can be done fairly routinely - some are very similar. But other complicated procedures, such as separating conjoined twins, present challenges that require careful planning. Especially for these kinds of challenging interventions, 3D visualization proves its tremendous value.

Recently, VR played an important role in the successful separation of conjoined twins. At the Masonic Children's Hospital in Minneapolis, USA, there were three-month-old twins that had grown together in a much more complicated way than others, with intricate connections between heart and liver. Operating and separating these twins was obviously very difficult and even dangerous for the twins.

Before the operation, the medical teams performed all possible scans that allowed for a detailed virtual model of the twins' bodies. In dat virtuele model konden de artsen vast ‘binnen in™ de organen kijken en zo goed van tevoren inschatten wat de mogelijkheden en gevaren zouden zijn tijdens de operatie.

“Je kijkt door de 3D bril en kunt virtueel wandelen door de structuur en precies zien wat je nodig hebt om te zien”. According to Dr. Azakie, one of the doctors involved in separating these twins, helped this VR solution minimize surprises during surgery.

VR technology is also used by vascular specialists. Using interactive 3D visualisations, surgeons can prepare well for procedures such as treating an aneurysm or blocked veins. One of the advantages is that it is already possible to estimate well in advance which measures and actions will yield the best results.

2VR for pain and fear

Where doctors use VR equipment, so do patients. For example, they use headsets to immerse themselves in a virtual world that helps them focus on issues other than medical problems and treatments.

Omdat anesthesie of verdoving voor sommige patiënten risico™s met zich kan meebrengen, bieden steeds meer ziekenhuizen VR headsets aan hun patiënten aan, om op die manier de pijn te kunnen controleren tijdens minder ernstige ingrepen. At the moment this is still experimental, but the Results are still positive.

Similarly, VR has been shown to help reduce anxiety in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Likewise in children, where it helps to reduce anxiety from stinging or other treatments.

Burn patients may benefit most from VR technology. Daily cleaning and wrapping of burns or performing skin grafts are some of the most painful procedures. Pain medication helps, but often not enough.

VR for complex operations
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Voor deze patiënten is het VR spel “SnowWorld” ontwikkeld. Dr. Hunter Hoffman, wetenschapper aan de Universiteit van Washington met expertise in the use of VR voor pijnbestrijding vertelt: “Dit spel bevat beelden die specifiek ontworpen zijn om patiënten met brandwonden af te leiden van hun pijn.” Mensen die dit spel spelen tijdens de behandeling hebben volgens onderzoek tot wel 50% minder pijn. Other research shows that playing this game shows changes in the brain of patients that indicate that they experience less pain.

The VR game SnowWorld developed by Hoffmann is currently being tested in four locations in the United States and in two other countries. Although VR should not be seen as a replacement for pain relief, the developers do believe that medication and VR combined can be extremely effective. Also in The Netherlands there is plenty of experimentation with pain relief by VR. Medical organizations such as the Radboudumc and the burns center of the Martini Hospital use VR glasses and are researching the application of VR in pain relief during endoscopic examinations and procedures. The first indications of this study show that indeed less sedation is required in patients who wear VR glasses use.

VR for complex operations
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3VR for rehabilitation

Virtual reality also helps patients who struggle with balance and mobility problems as a result of brain haemorrhage or head wounds.

A new European consortium, led by the Sint Maartenskliniek, will receive € 2.4 million for the development of Virtual Reality (VR) applications in rehabilitation processes. The Interreg North-West Europe program has awarded funding for the so-called VR4REHAB project. Dit project zal de komende drie jaar bedrijven, universities en revalidatieklinieken bij elkaar brengen om VR-toepassingen te ontwikkelen en onderzoeken, die revalidatiebehandelingen verbeteren en het herstelproces versnellen.


“Door middel van VR kan ik controleren wat er allemaal rondom een patiënt gebeurt en weten wat welke invloed heeft op het vermogen van patiënten om te veranderen. Emily Keshner, professor van lichamelijke therapie aan de Temple Universiteit in Philadelphia: “We stellen ze daaraan herhaaldelijk bloot en geven hen dan gericht feedback over hoe ze anders kunnen reageren zodat ze vallen of stoten kunnen voorkomen.”

Research shows that the use of VR in rehabilitation speeds up the process considerably. Patients are more likely to regain their physical skills. The first Results can be called very positive. A study in people who had a brain haemorrhage showed that the use of VR led to better movement of the arm and hand after four weeks of therapy. After two months, these patients also showed better mobility. Other studies in patients with cerebral palsy showed similar better outcomes.

“De kracht van VR bij therapie is dat je echt aan de slag gaat met hoe mensen de wereld zien”, vertelt Keshner. “Ze leren hoe ze kunnen reageren. En na het oefenen in de virtuele wereld zijn ze veel meer zelfverzekerd en beter in staat om dat ook in de echte wereld te gaan doen.”

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