For many gamers, virtual reality remains a mere curiosity, often known only from second or even third-hand accounts. However, Dr Kun Qian and other researchers at London's King's College have found a practical application for the technology: calming patients during magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. The journal Scientific Reports presented their VR set (via EurekAlert!).
MRI imaging takes place inside a machine that the patient enters in a supine position. The small space and the sounds made by the scanner can cause problems for some people, such as children under the age of 5 and people who suffer from claustrophobia (in the former, MRI scans fail in up to half the cases). This necessitates the use of sedation, or even general anaesthesia, which is costly and time-consuming, and always associated with risk. In addition, scientists receive potentially skewed data on brain function in these individuals, who are de facto put into a state of artificial sleep.
So the researchers looked for another way to calm the patients. This took the form of a special VR headset that displays visual content to absorb the subject's attention. The issue of auditory stimuli was solved in such a way that the virtual world is located on... a construction site, from which mechanical sounds (in fact, produced by the scanner) come.
The patient's immobility, on the other hand, is ensured by the fact that the device allows for interaction with the world only through the eyes, i.e. focusing the eyes on the selected object. The question of content is still open, but movies and games have been mentioned. Ba, there is even mention of the option to talk to a caregiver or companion through a webcam.
Kun Qi and his team are by no means the first researchers to recognize the potential of virtual reality immersion in medicine. The technology has aroused the interest of researchers for a long time, for example - as demonstrated by Epic Games - in the training of doctors.
The result: those allowed to use the VR kit (showing the Skogafoss waterfall in Iceland) coped with the procedure noticeably better and more painlessly, despite side effects in the form of more frequent nausea and dizziness (via EurekaAlert!). This confirms what doctors have been discussing for a long time (vide The Medical Futurist).