Three practical ways for VR to improve healthcare



When we talk about virtual reality, we usually immediately think of games like Job Simulator and Raw Data. Many of us regard virtual reality headsets like Oculus Rift as enhanced video game consoles, which is understandable. The early commercial success of virtual reality was mainly in the entertainment field.

In fact, virtual reality has been quietly improving the quality of life of people with chronic diseases, amblyopia, and autism. In this article, I interviewed three entrepreneurs who were the first to adopt virtual reality solutions to improve healthcare.

Promote autism treatment 

More than 3.5 million Americans suffer from autism spectrum disorder. The name covers a series of similar diseases (including Asperger's syndrome) that affect people's social and communication skills. There is currently no cure for autism, but speech and language therapy can help. Traditionally, autism treatment requires face-to-face communication with the doctor while the child is playing with toys to help the child learn social activities. With the popularity of virtual reality autism treatment solutions, there may not be much need to go to the doctor's office.

Vijay Ravindran is the CEO and co-founder of Floreo, a startup that uses a virtual reality platform to provide safe, immersive social and communication therapy. Ravindran said: “We use mobile virtual reality (such as Google Cardboard) to stimulate the virtual characters in the scene and encourage social interaction with children in need of treatment. We can reimagine traditional therapy and make it come to life. For example, children can be virtual Seeing an elephant in the safari park, not just looking at toys on the table."

The ultimate goal is to simplify treatment services so that parents can support their children at home. So far, the results have been remarkable. Ravindran claimed: "We have tried this product on hundreds of children with autism, and received a quiet effect. Because you can tailor the virtual environment and the sensory complexity in the environment, we are expected to be better than traditional treatments. Ways to more effectively mobilize children’s enthusiasm." 

A safer treatment for chronic pain

More than 25 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, that is, pain that exists for a long time or is getting worse. As more people rely on painkillers to relieve their pain, the United States is facing an opioid crisis. Overdose has killed more than 65,000 people in the past year. Medical service organizations urgently need a safer alternative, which may be in the form of virtual reality. Clinical trials have shown that virtual therapy can reduce pain by 25%.

Jon Weinberg is the chief operating officer of Karuna Labs, which uses immersive virtual reality therapy to treat chronic pain. Weinberg further explained: “We provide a series of teaching modules and rehabilitation exercises to help teach patients to understand the mechanism of pain. Fundamentally, our software provides a visual, exercise-based experience, eliminates the incoordination in the brain, and controls the cause from the source. Pain response."

Karuna Labs products use Virtual Embodiment Therapy. Patients no longer rely on how they view their bodies in real space, and begin to imagine themselves as avatars in virtual spaces. Because of the need for this illusion to provide effects for patients, the company uses high-end virtual reality headsets such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. It is said that the product has been shown to recover patients with chronic pain. Weinberg said: "We have seen patients greatly relieve their pain. They no longer have to stay at home and work. They can finally play with their children and grandchildren."

Improve vision without surgery

If your vision is not ideal and you want to improve your vision, your options are basically limited to wearing glasses, contact lenses, or eye surgery. However, with the advent of virtual reality vision therapy, another option is highly sought after.

James Blaha is the CEO and founder of Vivid Vision, which claims that its system for treating amblyopia is the most advanced in the world. The working principle of Vivid Vision is to allow the virtual reality helmet to provide two different images to the patient's eyes. Blaha explained: "We divide the virtual scene into two images, one for eyes with good eyesight and the other for eyes with weak eyesight. Then we lower the signal intensity of virtual reality objects for eyes with good eyesight, and adjust the signal intensity for eyes with weak eyesight. The high signal strength makes it easier for the two eyes to coordinate. Through practice, both eyes learn how to coordinate more effectively. The difference between the two eyes is smaller than a week."

Vivid Vision published a study after collaborating with 6,000 patients in more than 100 clinics around the world, documenting the effects of its unique virtual treatment method. Studies have shown that the company's treatment method allows 75% of patients to obtain depth perception (3D vision).

Concluding remarks

Virtual reality technology provides patients with a safe and cost-effective way to improve chronic diseases, although it has only been applied to a limited range of diseases so far. Facts have proven that from autism to amblyopia and chronic pain, this immersive technology is a real life-changing solution for those who do not care about traditional methods. It may only be a matter of time before virtual reality therapy becomes a common practice in the American healthcare system.