Now, when most people here the words virtual reality, they think about the latest video game. Whether it’s a mythical world you’re walking through or stepping into a digital sports car that travels at ludicrous speed, the last association you’re likely to make is that it is a step forward in medical technology. However, that last concept is quickly gaining traction. Medical professionals and medical students from the University of Las Palmas, Gran Canaria in Spain, have been experimenting with this new and exciting technology in effort to find new ways to relax patients prior to surgery.
While virtual headsets like the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive are new to developers, this thought process for using them to relax and soothe patients is not completely new. Virtual reality therapy has also been used in the treatment of serious burns. Created at the University of Washington, SnowWorld is an icy virtual environment that helps burn victims cope with their pain.
In the Las Palmas efforts, the researchers found that using VR can help lower the heart rate and blood pressure of the patient. Normally, patients will request a general anesthetic for surgery, however after experiencing the stress lowering virtual reality program, their pre-op nerves were calmed and it became more common for those patients to request less risky local anesthetics for their surgery.
This is not the first time VR has been considered in an effort to make the surgical process easier for patients, however it has now become less cost prohibitive. Ten years ago, acquiring this type of technology would cost tens of thousands of dollars per unit. Today, a virtual reality headset that has amazing potential costs only $600-$800 per unit. The worlds of leisure relaxation and medical relaxation are starting to blend. Hopefully, the research on this subject will continue and, eventually, it will become a way to ensure both patient relaxation and less risk in the process of being administered anesthetics.