Virtual Reality Isn’t Just For Gamers Anymore; It Will Change Your Health, by Bill Frist

TORONTO, ON – FEBRUARY 14 – Tess Baird uses the VR headset while Dr. Ben O’Sullivan looks on. Virtual Reality isn’t just for gamers. A new project between SickKids and Sunnybrook uses VR headsets to ease pre-surgery anxiety. Patients watch immersive video of the surgery process: wheeled down the hallway, getting anaesthesia, waking up. Pre-surgery anxiety has affects that spill over even after surgery. (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

VR is no longer just a source of gaming entertainment. Over the past 12 months, astounding technological advances coupled with seismic shifts in our healthcare sector toward “value-based care” (wherein quality, safety, and outcome are primary determinants) are opening the door to its effective clinical use. The immersive technology is being studied as a treatment modality for a broad swath of health-related issues, including: to lessen acute pain; to treat psychiatric conditions such as phobias, anxiety disorders and addictions; to provide cognitive training and improve limb function in those with neurological disorders; and to assist with and accelerate physical rehabilitation. In addition, it holds particular promise for accelerating medical education (like how quickly and safely a surgical trainee like me can learn to do transplants), modifying an unhealthy behavior such as smoking, personalizing therapies to the individual, and improving compliance to prescribed treatment regimens.

How does VR work for healthcare?

A useful framework for understanding the application of VR in medicine and health has been proposed by one of the field’s leaders, Albert “Skip” Rizzo, PhD, of the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies. Dr. Rizzo organizes applications into broad categories based on the underlying effects, which include:

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