As industries like entertainment, travel and education, continue to adopt virtual reality, other industries join the ongoing trend. The healthcare industry is among those where VR is making itself more pronounced.
VR in the Healthcare Industry
One recent forecast estimates that virtual reality technologies will enjoy a healthy 54.5% compound annual growth rate until 2023.
And major companies are looking into this potential. Samsung, for instance, is aiming to answer the demand by working with companies like appliedVR. They use the tech giant’s headsets and phones in offering patients alternative immersion treatments for pain and anxiety.
While there are companies moving towards this avenue, most of the VR offerings within the healthcare industry still focus on education and training for physicians. Nevertheless, the ever-advancing technology and growing adoption of physicians and patients bring novel applications of virtual reality to healthcare.
How VR Can Be Applied in Mental Health Treatments
Right now, there is a growing interest in using VR within the realm of therapy. Specifically, those suffering from a broad set of conditions including psychosis, phobia and depression can potentially benefit from VR.
This is exactly what Orygen is studying. The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health in Melbourne is collaborating with the University of Melbourne to explore how commercial VR technologies can be harnessed for therapeutic purposes.
Researchers explain that virtual reality can be used to create compelling and life-like scenarios where patients can relive experiences that trigger mental health issues and deal with them in a safe way.
It’s a participatory process, where the therapist has control over the environment. The patient, on the other hand, can immerse themselves fully in a given situation to help overcome negative thoughts or reactions.
Mindfulness in a Virtual Reality Landscape
While psychologists have used virtual reality for years in treating conditions like fear of spiders, fear of flying and post-traumatic stress, there are new innovations in the concept and practice of using VR for therapy.
The latest application is in creating a bespoke virtual platform to practice mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.
This is one of the most effective approaches to treating depression. Through mindfulness, individuals learn how to acknowledge negative thoughts, but not wallow in them. To recognize, but not to engage with such emotions.
How Does This Relate to VR?
An immersive space like VR is perfect for that very practice of recognizing without engaging.
With the use of headsets such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, patients can practice mindfulness, especially during certain stressful situations.
Orygen’s study lets participants enter a virtual world where avatars display behaviors designed to trigger classic depressive thinking. Participants can select thought bubbles from a pop-up menu to process the situation.
For instance, if an avatar gives a “dismissive glance”, the viewer can select, “He doesn’t like me”.
Researchers believe that making abstract thoughts tangible could give young people an easier way to practice mindfulness. This is beneficial because mindfulness itself is quite abstract and can be difficult to learn.
With the exciting addition of virtual reality, mental health interventions such as practicing mindfulness can go beyond what a counselor or a therapist is verbalizing. And patients are able to experience a visual representation of the technique.
The Value of VR
With the relative affordability of virtual reality headsets and other devices at the moment, it seems that what was nearly impossible a few years ago is now a great avenue for study.
This is certainly great news for healthcare. The industry will be able to redefine treatments and the provision of services, reaching out to the young and tech-savvy.