Healthcare: Transforming Medicine with Immersive Technologies

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In the ever-evolving landscape of healthcare, immersive technologies are starting to be deployed, reshaping the future of medicine. These innovative tools have already shown incredible potential to transform various aspects of healthcare delivery and patient experiences. In this blog, we will explore the impact of immersive technologies across the medical field, drawing insights from experts and highlighting their diverse applications.

Exploring Immersive Technologies

Immersive technologies, such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), have made significant strides in healthcare, here are the most recent developments making headlines.

Mental Health and Wellbeing: Immersive technologies are proving to be valuable tools in addressing mental health challenges. Experts are increasingly utilising VR to create immersive, therapeutic experiences for patients struggling with anxiety, depression, and PTSD. The soothing and immersive nature of VR environments is facilitating better outcomes and patient engagement. Dr. Albert Rizzo, a leading expert in the field, has conducted extensive research on the use of VR in mental health treatment, emphasising its potential to improve the lives of those suffering from psychological disorders.

Training and Rehabilitation: Virtual medtech tools have revolutionised medical training and rehabilitation. Medical professionals can now use VR to simulate surgeries, allowing trainees to gain valuable experience in a safe and controlled environment. This technology also supports rehabilitation programs, providing patients with engaging exercises that aid in their recovery. Dr. Carla Pugh, a pioneer in medical simulation and VR-based surgical training, highlights the effectiveness of VR in enhancing surgical skills and improving patient outcomes.

Education and Patient Engagement: Immersive technologies are transforming patient education and engagement. Medical practitioners are increasingly using AR to provide patients with interactive, 3D visualisations of their conditions and treatment options. This approach empowers patients to make informed decisions about their healthcare. Dr. Brennan Spiegel, Director of Health Services Research at Cedars-Sinai, emphasises the potential of AR and VR to enhance patient education and improve adherence to treatment plans.

Assisted Surgery and Diagnostics: Surgeons are benefiting from the use of AR during procedures. AR overlays critical information onto a surgeon’s field of view, offering real-time insights and improving precision. These technologies are redefining surgical planning and execution. Dr. Nadine Hachach-Haram, a plastic surgeon and digital health innovator, has championed the use of AR in surgery, demonstrating its potential to revolutionise healthcare.

The Evolution of Virtual Reality

In his opening keynote at the Royal Society of Medicine’s “The Future of Health and Care” conference in September 2023, Dan Ballin highlighted the maturity of Virtual Reality (VR) and its rapid adoption. With nearly 900,000 UK headsets in 2023 and a forecast to ship 1.45 million by 2028, VR is poised for substantial growth. The healthcare sector, particularly in training, stands to benefit significantly, with cost savings and improved patient outcomes. Notably, mental health applications are on the rise, offering solace and aiding recovery.

Miss Ekpemi Irune, Consultant Laryngolgy, Head and Neck, and Thyroid Surgeon, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust also highlighted how virtual and medical technologies are addressing NHS challenges such as low morale, waiting lists, staff and skill deficiencies. That virtual tech for training can increase exposure training opportunities, offer flexibility, save time, be cost effective for departments, enhance collaboration, offer remote supervision, allow practitioners to be more informed, satisfied and leave learners more empowered.

So what challenges could there be and what does it mean for the future of immersive medical tech?

Challenges and Opportunities

The adoption of immersive tech in healthcare is not without challenges. Data privacy and security are paramount, with the need to manage patient confidentiality while harnessing the benefits of these technologies. Additionally, the regulation of headsets and software, akin to medical devices, is a topic of discussion within the medical community. These will be big conversations for many years to come but we equally feel confident there will be resolution and the technology will continue to evolve.

The Future is Immersive Medical Tech

Virtual technologies are poised to play a pivotal role in reshaping healthcare. From mental health support to surgical assistance and patient education, these technologies are ushering in a new era of medicine. As healthcare professionals navigate challenges and embrace opportunities, the road ahead promises innovation, collaboration, and the potential to revolutionise healthcare delivery worldwide. Here are just a few suggestions for things to come:

  • Training and Pre-Hospital Medicine:
    Miss Ekpemi Irune showcased the role of mixed reality technology in addressing NHS challenges. This technology enhances training, increases exposure, and offers flexibility. Importantly, it diverts decision-making out of hospitals, addressing issues such as low morale, waiting lists, and skill deficiencies.
  • Scientific Evaluation and Global Health Implications:
    Professor Jagtar Dhanda discussed clinical trials involving AR in skin cancer detection and the use of generative AI for doctors to create their own content. These innovations are reshaping the medical field and hold potential for global health implications.
  • Multi-User Learning Experiences:
    Kevin Moss, CEO of Rescape, underscored the diverse applications of VR, including therapeutics, pain management, and anxiety reduction. The concept of embodiment in VR, allowing practitioners to step into the shoes of their patients, is transformative. The technology also addresses hearing and vision impairments, with case studies demonstrating its potential in dementia care.
  • A New Reality in Healthcare Delivery:
    The ease of use and high patient interest in immersive technologies are driving innovation in healthcare delivery. Medical practitioners are exploring ways to augment patient care, providing meaningful content and making it accessible for home use. The goal is to create software that is compatible with various headsets, ensuring usability on healthcare networks.

Conclusion

The impact of immersive technologies in medicine is undeniable, with experts and medical professionals harnessing their potential to improve patient care and outcomes. At The Royal Society of Medicine’s conference in September 2023, they unveiled a promising future where immersive technologies play a pivotal role in healthcare. From mental health support to surgical assistance and beyond, these technologies are reshaping medical practices. As the adoption of these technologies continues to grow, healthcare professionals must navigate challenges while harnessing the immense opportunities they offer. The road ahead is filled with innovation, collaboration, and the potential to revolutionise healthcare delivery and patient experiences globally.

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