VR programs helping train doctors, provide more effective treatments

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Posted at 3:18 PM, May 27, 2021

The top minds in technology are gathered at a conference this week to imagine the next evolution of virtual reality (VR).

VR is a digital simulation of a 3D environment that people can interact with through a wearable headset.

The technology has become more accessible and affordable, and experts say it could change the way people receive medical care.

“You know, this is a slam dunk match for VR,” said Dr. Skip Rizzo at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies.

He's been a leading researcher on clinical applications of virtual reality for decades. He says there’s scientific proof VR can help improve a wide range of treatments, from rehabilitation to pain management to anxiety and phobias.

“So, somebody has got fear of heights. Well, you can put them on maybe a first-floor balcony or a glass elevator that is elevated a couple of feet off the ground,” said Rizzo. “With VR, we can actually immerse people in those simulations and simulations of those events at a pace that can handle.”

Rizzo says that type of exposure therapy has also proven effective in helping people who are on the autism spectrum prepare for job interviews.

VR is also helping with chronic pain sufferers by using technology to teach patients proven pain management strategies.

“With a needlestick, you know, look the other way, don't watch the needle go in, that kind of thing. But with VR, you can put somebody in a VR headset and get them engaged in a game or an activity or a calming environment,” said Rizzo. “Whether that’s on the top of Mount Everest or it's in an underwater scenario, swimming with a pod of dolphins.”

Rizzo says VR can also help distract a person's mind during a chemo treatment or uncomfortable dental procedure. And it can assist in physical therapy or recovery programs in stroke survivors.

Rizzo says VR treatments aren't for everyone and he stresses that the treatments are not meant to replace human health care providers.