The pandemic has driven XR growth in healthcare
Although some large institutions have been testing these technologies for years, research and interest in X-rays for patient care has increased since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, says Dr. Brennan Spiegel, director of research at health services at Cedars-Sinai Health System.
“We’ve used virtual reality on more than 3,500 patients at Cedars-Sinai since 2016 when we started using the technology,” he says. “There are over 200 other hospitals in the United States using virtual reality in clinical practice, and many more around the world.”
Cedars-Sinai’s XR medical department focuses on education and training, research and development, and clinical care. The department is testing a mix of virtual, augmented and medical technologies, combined with telehealth, to reach patients and expand patient awareness.
Currently, Cedars-Sinai uses a VR consultation service to help manage patients who need non-pharmacological treatments to reduce pain and anxiety, Spiegel says.
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XR creates new avenues of patient care
Although it does not replace in-person care, researchers say XR can help patients manage pain, physical therapy, and behavioral health.
“Extended reality environments are no better than the real-world clinical environment; they just offer different capabilities, extending what’s possible in a clinical setting,” says Jennifer C. Reneker, associate professor and research coordinator in the Department of Population Health Sciences at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
“These capabilities open up new avenues for examining and treating patients, many of which have yet to be discovered and used in routine practice,” she says.
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Most XR treatments begin with the use of a sensor-equipped VR headset. The headset can present tasks and situations that a patient can respond to that would not be available in a typical clinical environment. As the cost of VR headsets come down, with some starting at $300, they are becoming more accessible for widespread use by patients.
“The virtual environment in the headset encompasses the patient’s visual and auditory senses, so it’s possible to both distract from the real world and simultaneously use it to determine what the patient is feeling,” says Reneker.
The University of Mississippi Medical Center is testing virtual environments to better engage patients in remote and underserved areas. Combining VR headsets with telehealth technology, the university uses XR platforms to treat patients with concussions, chronic pain, attention deficit disorder and autism spectrum issues.