Tears, anxiety, pain. Going to the doctor to get an injection can mean all this for a child, and sometimes for the hapless parent too. Infants do not often remember the pain from an injection but toddlers and older children very often come to associate visits to doctors with the unpleasant jab. The trauma of childhood injections is so common that websites that dispense with medical or parenting advice all have a column dedicated to how to deal with a child’s fear of needles.
Periodic shots for vaccinations are bad enough but what if a child has haemophilia and needs to be stuck with a needle every few days for blood infusions? Clinicians at an Ohio hospital, who have seen hundreds of paediatric haemophilic patients and their parents struggle through the experience, are now witnessing a welcome change. All that is needed was a little virtual reality.
Haemophilic children at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus have been enrolled in a pilot study that is testing how a virtual reality game can keep patients engaged while they receive their shots or transfusions. The game called Voxel Bay has been specifically created for children and has been developed by the hospital’s haemophilia team and students from the Ohio State University's Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design.
Here is six-year-old Brady Bowman using the virtual reality headset that has been designed to be disposable and lightweight to enter Voxel Bay’s immersive environment of penguins, pirates and hermit crabs. Most importantly, the headset is hands-free to enable the necessary medical procedure.
There has been a lot of hype about virtual reality for many years but until recently, real life applications of virtual worlds have been elusive. But now companies life Google and Facebook are investing heavily in virtual reality. Google has a simple cardboard headset called Google Cardboard that allows 360 video and very simple virtual reality and now has come up with the more advanced Daydream. Facebook bought Oculus VR , the company that created the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, in 2014.
While virtual reality is raising the bar in gaming and move making, medical researchers are making use of the investment and interest in the technology to look look at wider applications medicine resulting in a sudden surge in medical virtual reality application – at least in experimental stages. The University of Southern California has a Medical Virtual Reality group that studies and develops virtual reality simulations to be used in psychology, medicine, neuroscience and physical and occupational therapy. The group has a special on virtual reality for mental heath therapy, motor and cognitive skill rehabilitation and clinical skill training. For example, the group has developed virtual patients for rookie doctors and clinicians to practice and improve their skills without the risk of harming a human being in need of medical help. They are also using virtual reality to help treat soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Medical researchers are working on virtual reality simulations to treat phobias like a fear of heights or a fear of spiders. Others are developing virtual reality tools that can help patients, especially children, too get used to hospital environments even before they are admitted so that they are not intimidated by being in a hospital. Software developers in Canada are also creating interactive virtual spaces to help surgeons train for complex operations. The technology allows a surgeon to be in a virtual operating room and connects the surgeon’s real hands to the virtual reality version of the doctor so that the doctor can actually run through the movements of an entire surgery. Take a look at Mashable News’ report on the experiment.