Health and Wellness

Accelerating Virtual Reality for Clinical Care

Using virtual reality during pregnancy

Within healthcare, virtual reality (VR) applications are currently being used to control pain, decrease anxiety and reduce stress. New research has demonstrated a strong case for using the technology in care both at home and in the hospital. How can this therapy be scaled to a broader population of patients? John Sharp, director of thought advisory with HIMSS, will answer just that question as he speaks with Brennan Spiegel, MD, director of health services research at Cedars-Sinai and author of How Virtual Therapeutics Will Revolutionize Medicine.

Even before gaming, shared Dr. Spiegel, the technology was advanced through the military, for simulating aircraft, helicopters, etc. As more accessible platforms became available, including for gaming and entertainment, the technology became more and more popular. According to Dr. Spiegel, the technology has the ability to alter consciousness, experiences of the world—both the world around us and the world within us. And if used effectively the technology can be used to promote positive cognitions.

“The idea of using VR for healthcare is something that has been tested now for decades in psychology laboratories around the world and elite universities,” said Dr. Spiegel. “But until recently, we haven't had low-cost, highly effective headsets that we could clean and reuse and bring to the front line of healthcare. Really, that's where, you know, doctors like me step in is, we've taken all these years of research that have been hard fought by a lot of other investigators over many years and taken these new headsets that have been created, and brought them up to the clinic, or into the hospital, and tested to see how it may be useful for a wide range of conditions. And we can talk about all those different use cases.”

Dr. Spiegel shared one such case study. “It seems like virtual reality works by tamping down both the physical and emotional pain circuits in the brain… even with functional MRI scans of the brain, people first without VR and then with… Our group has looked at this and hospitalized patients and found benefits in a randomized trial. We also recently looked at this in labor and delivery, women undergoing childbirth, were randomized to experience a Lamaze-style VR treatment, compared to no VR and recorded less pain. So there's a wide variety everywhere from dentistry to physical rehab, and lots of pain syndromes where VR seems to work quite well.”

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