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High Tech Therapy: Virtual Reality Valuable Beyond Gaming

Facebook recently made headlines continuing its acquisition streak by purchasing Oculus VR Inc, a maker of virtual-reality glasses for gaming. This news came just weeks after its WhatsApp acquisition for $19 billion. With both companies only posting revenues of about $20 million per year, it may seem that the world’s largest social network overpaid for both acquisitions when taken at face value. However, virtual reality does not stop at the world of gaming.

Many believe that the next big shift in computer platforms will be high tech wearable devices and virtual reality is right in the middle of that shift with its wide array of uses. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sees virtual reality’s capabilities well beyond gaming by stating on Tuesday’s media day, “Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face – just by putting on goggles in your home.”

Virtual reality is already being put to use to treat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders. A treatment called Graded Exposure Therapy, led by specialist Robert McLay of the Naval Medical Center in San Diego helps treat PTSD patients by exposing them in a controlled environment and monitoring their physiological responses and coping mechanisms. So far, the team has seen improved results on three different measurements: neuropsychological, self-report and clinician-administered scales.

Patients who are missing limbs are benefiting from the technology of virtual reality as well. A 3-D virtual lab at the Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Center is leading the initiative. Patients are safely hooked to a harness while standing on a treadmill like floor that moves according to the patient’s direction. The virtual reality lab simulates a walk in the park, over rocky terrain, and even a swinging suspended bridge. So far, a thousand patients have used it since it was first established at the hospital three years ago. The treatment helps the coordination and recovery of the patients and also provides a safe alternative environment, especially in a snowy area such as Ottowa.

While software and cloud companies innovate at a seemingly ever-faster rate, hardware platforms tend to do so at their own pace. “The history of our industry is that every 10 or 15 years there’s a new major computing platform, whether it’s the PC, the Web or now mobile,” Zuckerberg adds. And just as software adjusted to the platforms used at the time such as payment solutions on mobile or patient check-ins on the tablet, new uses for virtual reality are inevitable. We’re just glad it is receiving the attention it deserves.

If you love technology and medical IT as much as we do, follow us on Twitter for the latest industry news. We’ll help you stay ahead of the curve.


 

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