VR therapy is the use of virtual reality equipment and programs within a therapeutic setting, sometimes as the primary therapy used, to address both mental illness and physical injury. In many cases, VR headsets are used in combination with biometric sensors like heartbeat or electrodermal activity sensors.
Research indicates that the use of virtual reality in therapeutic contexts is effective.
Patients suffering from mental illness, especially anxiety-related disorders, for example use VR therapies to expose themselves to a fear-inducing stimulus (such as a phobia or a stressful social situation) but only to the optimal therapeutic level, where growth can occur. In these cases, therapists may use biometric sensors in addition to VR headsets, to make sure the simulations run optimally and the patient does not push themselves too hard or not hard enough.
Meanwhile, patients undergoing physical therapy also benefit. The VR simulations that patients run through provide functional, real-world context to physical exercises that show themselves to be more effective therapies than traditional physical exercises.
VR therapy also shows itself to be more convenient for patient and therapist: any number of simulations can be programmed or downloaded, so therapies can be personalized and, thus, more effective.
Of course, a good VR therapy program should use the patient’s data: their current abilities and their goals, to start. The program should also keep a record of the data generated by the patient throughout the therapy, whether that data comes from biometric or oral feedback. As noted above, these therapies are highly personalized; they should also be responsive to patient data from each therapy session.
These programs also require data from new studies and research papers about effective treatments for mental illness and physical injury. Therapists and developers don’t need to limit themselves to studies on the specific conditions they treat, either. As the research already shows, therapy works best when it is immersive and uses as many senses as possible; separating the physical and the emotional when social simulations have shown they improve physical rehab and biometric sensor technology has proven it can improve anxiety disorder treatments, developers should pay attention to news about other disciplines.
Additionally, gamification and even video game development data should be considered essential external data. These game-like simulations form the basis for this type of therapy; therapists can use video game development data to make these programs more effective.
Other useful external data may include biometric sensor technology data. If therapists already used sensors in their practice, of course, the data produced belongs to the patient’s data category. However, not all therapies require biometric sensors, so the new technologies may be considered merely useful external data.
For therapists who already use bio-sensors, however, keeping an eye on new developments would still be a good idea: perhaps a new development or a new technology would suit their practice better.
Proponents of this therapy usually cite cast as one of its advantages. However, they usually speak of cost in comparison to either the number of traditional therapy sessions it takes to reach the level of rehabilitation that a VR therapy program offers, or to the cost of taking the patient into the real world to expose them to the situations that challenge them. Yet, cost—he initial cost of purchasing equipment and training staff—remains one of the main challenges of this therapy.
Physical therapy is hard work, but for children, this work is often done through play. Finding novel ways to incorporate play activities into rehab may be key to getting proper functional movement. Using VR technology may be just the key to keeping a child engaged in the work of rehab while correcting movement impairments.
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