Virtual Reality (VR) technology is applied in many areas, including architectural and urban design, digital marketing, education, and military training. It is defined as the use of computer technology to create a stimulating environment. The most recognizable component of VR technologies is the head-mounted display or (HMD), which usually uses a headset placed over the eyes. It has been widely used to provide learners with a virtual environment to develop their skills without the real-world consequences of failing.
Today, VR technology has also found its way on the medical field — where surgeries are done virtually. This program was first introduced in 2016 by a surgeon named Shafi Ahmed who broadcasted an operation using virtual reality; thus inspiring thousands of medical practitioners. He explained that through VR, medical students and novice surgeons would have the benefit to view, as well as, experience complex surgeries without stepping directly into the operating room.
With recent reports on how VR technologies are creating changes in the medical field, cardiologists have also seen the benefits that these promising tools could offer. One of the many health facilities which are utilizing VRs is the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. It specializes in Pediatric Cardiology, which deals with the diagnosis and treatment of heart disorders and related conditions.
Stanford Cardiologists believe that the human heart is one of the most important and complicated organs of the body. It can develop abnormalities and may be life-threatening once people are not fully aware of what is happening on the vital organ and how to prevent it. But the primary focus of Stanford today is to revolutionize education on CHDs or commonly known as Congenital Heart Disease.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Congenital Heart Disease is the most common type of abnormality people face since childhood. CHD is any medical condition of the heart or the blood vessels supplying it that impairs cardiac functioning (Encarta, 2019).
Every year, about 40,000 people are born with Congenital Heart Defects (CHDs) in the United States alone, and approximately one million worldwide. With the increasing number of CHD cases around the globe, Stanford Virtual Heart found a solution to make it easier to communicate and understand what’s happening inside the human heart.
Before VRs come to light, surgeons find it difficult to spread information about CHDs and its risk to people. They explained that the heart is a complex organ to study, and needs an actual person to be on the operating table with his chest open.
But then again, an actual person isn’t readily and easily available for the activity, and open chest surgery is one of the most challenging operations in the medical field. While students often rely on textbooks and videos to fully grasp the context of CHDs, experts express concerns over the patients.
Those tools work with them, but that won’t work with patients and their families who have limited learning resources. That is the primary goal of VR technologies — to revolutionize medicine and educate both patients and medical practitioners on the enigma of heart diseases, especially CHDs.
So, how can these stimulating activities help patients with CHD and surgeons as a whole?
With the aid of VRs, aside from being able to be inside of a human heart, a surgeon has the opportunity to show patients or medical students the issue, explain points on how to fix the problem, and why it occurs in the first place.
Educating patients on the nature of their health condition is one way to help them understand what they are going through. How this thing works is simple; physicians will bring in a headset then ask a patient to place it over his eyes.
Then suddenly, the patient will be staring at a human heart, and the surgeon will educate the issue, how he would fix it, and why specific condition happens.
What is more interesting about the said technology is that the patient can be able to walk through inside the heart while understanding what causes the illness. Instead of moping patients with sad facts about their situation, VRs will bring them hope and a promise of living a healthy life in the future.
VR technology helps surgeons map out surgeries ahead of time. Physicians can produce a three-dimensional model that patients can see and manipulate. Simulated heart surgeries allow surgeons to practice their technical skills without any risk to patients.
Numerous studies conducted have shown that physicians who receive surgical training via VR simulations improve ability and performance in the operating room significantly more than control groups.
For the first time in history, people can be able to walk through, first hand, and will know the complexity of a human heart and the possible disease it may encounter. VR technologies have many uses, and applying it in the medical field is just one of them.
And educating patients on their conditions through VR is a big step towards revolutionizing medicine; if this type of technology will continue to create significant changes by bringing information in a digestible way outside of classrooms and operating rooms, quality of life increases while misperception decreases.