• VR
  • Virtual reality better than pain killers?

    So we’ve heard how virtual reality (VR) can enhance our social lives. Now we’re going to discuss the medical benefits of the technology. Particularly in pain management.  VR has is being studied for its potential to ease pain by serving as a distracting force during medical procedures like wound care sessions for burn victims. Already, studies and papers on the subject have provided evidence that VR can lessen the sensation of pain, both chronic and acute. 

    While VR is a promising, drug-free option for pain treatment, existing VR systems are expensive and use unconvincing graphics. However, recent advances can allow the development of more realistic and more cost-effective applications. These include;

    improved realismimmersion using 360-degree 3D technologymore affordable delivery systems

    Applied VR, a company in Los Angeles, is already capitalising on these advances. The company is working with hospitals and doctors to get patients using the technology on Samsung’s Gear VR headset and to study its effectiveness as well.   So far, the company has created three different virtual-reality pain applications, as well as one for reducing anxiety.

    Not so far in the future, your doctor might prescribe VR sessions to ease aches and pains, rather than popping a pill.  The greatest challenge it faces right now is finding software developers who want to make applications that target specific medical problems.  Perhaps this is an opportunity for African start-ups looking to innovate in the eHealth space this year.

  • World's first virtual reality operation completed

    On the 14th of April, Dr Shafi Ahmed performed the world’s first live stream operation in 360-degree video. Medical students, trainee surgeons and curious members of the public could immerse themselves in the surgical procedure in real time, says an article in The Guardian. The two-hour procedure was at the Royal London Hospital in the United Kingdom. It removed cancerous tissue from a male patient’s bowel. Dr Ahmed has performed the procedure many times before, but this time, it wasn’t just his surgical team in the room with him, the whole world watched on too.

    A cancer surgeon at Barts Health NHS Trust, also in London, Ahmed believes the approach could make “healthcare more equitable”, improving surgeons’ training. Improving Internet connections and cheaper smartphones and only a pair of lenses and some cardboard needed to make a virtual reality headset, the costs pale in comparison to the expense of students travelling abroad to train. 

    Shot using two 360-degree cameras and a number of lenses arranged around the theatre, the operation could be viewed through the “VR in OR” app, using a virtual reality headset that can pair with a smartphone. People who didn’t have a headset could watch the video live online.

    While videos showcasing surgical procedures have been around for years, Ahmed says the new approach brings a new feature to education. Viewers can focus on what the surgeon’s doing and the activities of other members of the surgical team. “There will be noise, there will be the immersive factor – so that will add different layers of educational value,” he added.

    It is not the first time that Ahmed has led the way in embracing modern technology in healthcare. As co-founder of the healthcare company Medical Realities, he believes virtual reality, augmented reality and gamification all play a role in training medical students. Two years ago he streamed a live operation using Google Glass so people could see the procedure from a surgeon’s point of view. 

    The new 360-degree video offers a new, immersive approach, allowing users to see beyond what the surgeon is looking at. “[During an operation] I am teaching people, talking to them, there is communication going on,” he said. He was quick to add that while the new technology is a fantastic tool, patient care should still come first. “Ultimately, it is about the operation, about [the patient], about his cancer care and that has to be the priority for everybody,” he said.

    The initial benefit for Africa’s health systems is the potential for medical students to learn more without travelling. Ahmed’s initiative should find a place in Africa’s eHealth and human resource strategies.

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    Image from The Guardian