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VR in the Medical World: in the Children’s Hospital

by Beth Divine 22 Oct 2018

Virtual reality is one of those media that is thought of as something fun, an amusement form – entertainment not something important or serious or really useful. But this is to dismiss virtual reality too easily. The technology is finding its way into the mainstream, and the medical world is finding more and more ways to use it with treatments that would otherwise cost too much or be too impractical.

MRI scans are scary even for adults. They are very noisy, extremely cramped, and the patient needs to keep still for the duration of the scan. MRI scans are used to obtain minutely detailed images from the inside of the human body to check for signs of disease or remission.

Often children need to have MRI scans and they become terrified seeing and hearing the machine in operation. The worst thing of all is that the children must be in the machine alone, and in the room containing the machine alone, with the operator seated in a different room, watching them through a window. If they begin to cry, it is difficult to comfort them.

One good remedy has been found. In the time before their MRI, children can visit the doctor and use a virtual reality headset to experience what an MRI will feel like before they have to commit to the actual examination. In this way, they can hear the noise and see what it will be like when they have to go in for real. Their doctor can also teach them how to lie nice and still for the duration of the examination which can take up to an hour altogether.

While it is not yet possible for children to wear virtual reality headsets inside the MRI, perhaps the day is coming when the whole inside of the MRI machine can be designed to look and feel like a sunny meadow or peaceful bedroom.

This is just one way that virtual reality can be used – there are many conditions and operations that can be played out in virtual reality to make it clear to the child what is happening in their body, and how the medicine or operation will help them to feel better.

All too often, it is the unknown that causes fear. Teaching the children (and, in fact, any other patient) exactly what is going on and what will happen, is an excellent way to alleviate this fear and make the whole medical process a smoother and easier one.