Researchers and physicians at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute want to use virtual reality to visualize scans better and help patients understand their treatment regimes.
The physicians believe that with improved imaging, virtual reality can reduce complexities for patients and service providers.
VR technology will help patients understand treatment plans
Christopher Williams, a medical physicist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital explained that advances in technology mean that, with virtual reality, physicians have new ways to present data in a meaningful way.
“We can reduce some of the complexity for people looking at it and interpreting it. Because it’s such a complex geometry for treatment, we really think that using a technique like virtual reality to help visualize what’s going on, I think that can help the patient understand … why we are doing the approach that we are doing,” he told Stat News.
With virtual reality, patients also get a chance to use the technology to understand their treatment plans, the website said.
Williams and oncologist Ray Mak are currently conducting an early trial of how virtual reality can be used in cancer treatments. For their study, they invited Bill Hobbs, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer, commonly caused by exposure to asbestos.
“It doesn’t change anything in the sense of, am I going to get better quicker because now I know something I didn’t know? Not particularly. But what it does do is show you what they’re doing and they can tell you why they’re doing it, and that’s a good feeling to have,” Hobbs was quoted saying.
Growing research interest in VR use
The use of virtual reality in cancer treatment has increasingly piqued researchers’ interest over the years. Advocates for the use of virtual reality in cancer treatment believe it could dramatically change how people living with cancer experience their treatment and describe it as a promising technology that could help people suffering from cancer and other ailments deal with both acute and chronic pain.
The University of Southern California, together with the National Cancer Institute Virtually Strong, are expected to begin a clinical trial in March of this year on the use of virtual reality for reducing pain and anxiety in cancer participants undergoing painful procedures.
The objectives of the study, which is expected to have 60 participants and will run for two years, are to determine the feasibility of using virtual reality in patients undergoing procedural intervention and to estimate differences between the two arms in terms of pain and anxiety. The study will also document any adverse events that could possibly be attributed to the virtual reality intervention.
It’s not just cancer, where virtual reality could be a game changer.
Over in the United Kingdom, the University of Chester’s medical graphics team partnered with the Stroke Department at the Countess of Chester Hospital to come up with VR headsets that they hope will allow stroke patients to practice and relearn daily activities. Researchers believe this could be a cost effective way of helping patients relearn daily activities. With the VR headsets, the researchers hope they can make the process less tedious and somewhat enjoyable.
A useful distraction
While researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital want to use virtual reality to show patients their treatment regimes, others use the technology to “distract” their patients and in so doing ease their pain and anxiety.
A 2017 study by the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center concluded that virtual reality therapy was effective in significantly reducing pain for hospitalized patients.
“We believe virtual reality hijacks the senses, but in a good way. It creates an immersive distraction that stops the mind from processing pain, offering a drug-free supplement to traditional pain management,” Brennan Spiegel, the director of Cedars-Sinai’s Health Service Research, enthused.
French startup, Healthy Mind aims to bring augmented reality headsets into the emergency room, also with the intention of easing pain and anxiety. The startup’s approach is to employ high-quality graphics and sounds to induce a state of deep relaxation. With this they hope that patients will be so engrossed in their virtual worlds that they forget about their pain or the anxiety preceding painful medical procedures.
To illustrate the healthcare industry’s interest in virtual reality, last year, the Johnson & Johnson Institute launched a global virtual reality training program designed to teach orthopedic surgeons, nurses and medical students how to conduct a series of medical procedures through a combination of digital learning tools.
A Goldman-Sachs report forecasts the health care market for augmented reality and virtual reality is likely to hit the $5.1 billion mark by 2025.