There has been a lot of hype around virtual reality and high hopes for the potential of the most recent reincarnation of the technology. Nowadays, digital worlds can be consumed via head mounted devices (HMDs) as well as hand-sized mobile phone screens. With new hardware being launched by major technology companies such as HTC, Oculus, Samsung, Microsoft, and Google this year, more important than ever is what kind of content people are developing to help us extend reality but also to better understand reality.
While virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) still may not be ubiquitous household technologies, there are quite a few applications that people are developing in the healthcare space. The London One HealthTech Hub had a meetup in June to explore more about the current state of some of the developments of immersive tech in healthcare and start probing about whether the promises still holding strong.
The started with a bit of networking at the Immersive Lab at the Digital Catapult, a perfect venue for exploration of immersive tech. Then Dr Cristina De Juan, Founder & CEO of IMT Innovation, started the talks with an overview of the healthcare issues being addressed using VR & AR. This includes therapeutic uses, such as in distraction therapy for pain management and in exposure therapy for management of phobias, as well as in education and training, by providing exposure to new perspectives in surgical theatres or other clinical settings.
Then Dr Sylvia Pan, Lecturer in VR at Goldsmiths, University of London, provided a status update on how the world around virtual reality has evolved since she started entered the field. Many technologies and approaches, such as motion capture, machine learning, and psychology, have been evolving at the same time and are leading to an interesting storm of possibilities. Dr Pan highlighted her research in designing a VR experience that is appropriate for GP communication training. Communication is a critical part of good healthcare and GPs play crucial roles in various facets from appropriate antibiotic prescribing, which as both immediate effects on the patient as well as knock-on effects on microbial resistance and wider healthcare costs, as well as identification and reporting of child abuse, which can mean a big difference in a young life. However, the intensity of these scenarios can often be hard to practice in meaningful ways, so Dr Pan and her colleagues have been working on ways to mimic that reality in VR so that clinicians can practice appropriate management. You can learn more about her research and her findings in her slides.
The last talk of the evening was from Dr Jack Pottle, Founder and Chief Medical Officer of Oxford Medical Simulation (OMS). He explained how VR can open possibilities in training though enabling simulation in a way not possible with physical manikins or role plays. By producing a digital A&E with appropriate potential interactions, you can offer an environment for clinicians to practice their clinical decision making. As part of the wider body of simulation, VR offers opportunities to deliberately practice in a manner that is safe for the learner as well as patients. You can read more about how people are using and responding to VR in simulation in Dr Pottle’s slides.
The evening concluded with a panel discussion of what is happening at the intersection of immersive technologies and healthcare. Admittedly the industry has a burden to continue to demonstrate effectiveness beyond the lab and has extra burden to prove that VR isn’t just doing to die another death. The talks left many reassured that there has been some measurable progress and that there is still room for collaboration between different types of techies, whether they be health techies, animation nerds, artificial intelligence geeks, or some other type of great mind. In fact, during the panel, a spark was struck in the mind of a dentist in the crowd. Here’s to keeping an eye on what’s next!