Medicine Meets Virtual Reality: Now Is The Time

“Now is the time. We’ve proven that it works in the clinic…multiple times and multiple ways. Now is the time that virtual reality (VR) needs to move out of the lab and into every clinic and hospital to deliver the clear benefits.” So began a pointed rallying call from Dr. Walter Greenleaf, who along with Jaron Lanier, pioneered the use of VR in clinical settings.

Known mainly for failing to live up to its potential, a recent conference “Medicine Meets Virtual Reality” (MMVR) highlighted how this label is fading…fast.

It’s a good bet that your surgeon has honed her skills on a VR-enabled simulator before she slices you open. Just like airline pilots are required to log simulator hours to train for unanticipated events, simulator time is now de rigueur for many health professionals.

But how are these technologies being applied to patients? MMVR highlighted some excellent examples.

Training children, even toddlers to manipulate their wheelchairs effectively in a safe environment was exhibit #1. Seeing video of the tiny patients zipping around with smiles on their faces, was a conference highlight.

Another VR elder statesman, Dr. Skip Rizzo, was represented with the PTSD SimCoach. The agent (video here) is currently used to treat veterans by exposing them, in a safe and graduated way, to the traumatic situations responsible for their distress.

Other groups are using this type of VR-enabled exposure therapy to teach skills and provide safe practice opportunities for substance abuse patients.

Another hot topic at the conference, was a session titled “Analysis of Honest Signals for Psychological Health Assessment” . Researchers presented their findings and promised that emotion detection technology is almost ready for prime time. That’s good news for VR users craving a more realistic experience. Not so good news for anyone with something to hide.

Stay tuned for next year’s conference–the confluence of better/faster/cheaper hardware and renewed enthusiasm for the field promises to bring even more innovation.


photo courtesy of MMVR organizers


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