The use of virtual reality in healthcare has now joined blockchain as one of the hottest topics in health IT. That’s why Activate Health has teamed up with some of the biggest, most renowned health systems and healthcare institutions in the nation to develop a thoughtful look at how this new tech is transforming the industry.

Our new series on virtual reality in healthcare kicked off with a new article in Healthcare Business Today and will be followed by articles in Group Practice Journal (a publication of the American Medical Group Association), HIT Consultant and many others. These publications reach thought leaders in health systems, health plans and health IT organizations nationwide. Each article profiles how industry leaders are using virtual reality in healthcare to improve health outcomes and quality. These profiles include stories from Cleveland Clinic, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Cedars-Sinai, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Olympus (Medical division), Vanderbilt University, St. Jude Children’s Hospital and Banner Health. Below is a short sample from the first article. 

Healthcare goes virtual: Virtual reality opens up new worlds within care delivery, clinical research

Virtual reality technology is about much more than just video games these days, especially if you’re a healthcare professional, researcher or student. Academic and healthcare facilities across the nation are just beginning to explore the boundaries of both VR and augmented reality (AR) in a variety of exciting ways. Some are making sizeable investments in this promising new technology. Last year, the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) broke ground on a $122 million facility which will help health care professionals, such as physicians, nurses and medical students, train for basic and advanced skills. The Davis Global Center will house the university’s iEXCEL program and feature its state-of-the-art EON Reality VR Innovation Academy, designed to develop AR/VR skills within the community and enhance workforce development. An entire level of this nearly 200,000-square-foot facility is dedicated to “visualization”. These are 3D, immersive environments that transport students and healthcare professionals into a pediatric unit or an intensive care unit. “The idea is to practice not just hands-on technical skills but also interprofessional team training, communication and critical thinking skills, so we can transition patients safely through the healthcare system,” said Dr. Pamela Boyers, Vice Chancellor, iEXCEL at UNMC. “The whole center is designed to provide experiential training opportunities which lead to the highest quality patient care.”

Putting young adults with autism behind the (virtual) wheel
Other institutions are using virtual reality in healthcare to support patients directly, even outside the clinical setting. In one such program, Vanderbilt University is employing a highly advanced virtual reality simulator to help young adults diagnosed with autism learn to drive a car. Individuals with this disorder may have trouble with certain activities of daily living (ADLs), especially complex tasks like driving. Researchers at Vanderbilt designed the simulator to include multiple levels, each addressing the common sensory processing, emotional and behavioral challenges these young adults face in learning to drive. Even so-called “neurotypical” teens can get frustrated and stressed while learning to drive and these feelings are amplified for individuals with autism. That’s why researchers at Vanderbilt designed the simulator to tailor its lessons based on each individual’s current emotional state and attention level. This is made possible through psychological monitoring of heart rate, sweating, skin conducting and even brain waves through an EEG. “We essentially created an artificial intelligence algorithm that determines each individuals’ stress and engagement,” said Nilanjan Sarkar, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of Mechanical Engineering at Vanderbilt. “This is incredibly useful because we can determine whether the individual is feeling bored or challenged during a lesson, whether they are paying attention, and most importantly, how stressed they are during the experience.”

Managing opioid use disorder
The real-time visual feedback provided by virtual reality in healthcare also a benefit to clinicians looking to support patients with addiction, including opioid use disorder. Dr. Patrick Bordnick, dean and professor of the Tulane School of Social Work in New Orleans, developed a VR app designed to help people with addiction disorders avoid relapses. (Dr. Bordnick’s work was funded in part by a financial award by the Not Impossible Awards, a non-profit program that receives financial backing from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.) His new smart-phone enabled app puts users in a common scenario containing a variety of “triggers” that are likely to cause cravings. For example, a scenario might transport the app user into a social gathering or party where they can see and hear others drinking alcohol or using drugs…

Learn more about virtual reality in healthcare by reading the entire article here.