What can Oculus Rift do for healthcare?
August 4, 2014 in Medical Technology
Virtual reality is nothing new, of course. It’s been around in various forms since the 1980s. But an emerging technology called Oculus Rift – a state-of-the-art headset meant to enable fully-immersive video gaming – has many people excited about a new era for the concept.
Irvine, Calif.-based Oculus VR, launched in 2012 with help from a Kickstarter campaign that raked in an astonishing $2,437,429 (of a of $250,000 goal) from 9,522 backers worldwide is developing the Rift not strictly for gaming, say company officials, but as way to help “revolutionize the way people experience interactive content.”
The world is taking notice in a big way – and not just Facebook, which on March 25 announced its acquisition of the startup for a whopping $2 billion. Approached for an interview by Healthcare IT News, the company demurred: there’s “a tremendous backlog of requests and (we) simply won’t be able to get to this any time soon,” said a spokesperson.
Plenty of other publications have been waxing rhapsodic about the technology’s potential impact. Writing in The Observer this spring, Stuart Dredge made the case that Oculus Rift aims to “reboot virtual reality” – wiping away dated images of goggles and gloves, remnants from a previous era where the hype didn’t catch on.
Facebook has big plans. “This is just the start,” said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg upon announcing the acquisition. “After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences.”
And while Dredge rightly points out that the market for VR has still yet to be proven – offering list of much-touted but ultimately underwhelming virtual reality gambits such as Nintendo’s Virtual Boy and Second Life – the social media behemoth is betting big that soon “this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people,” Zuckerberg says.
One of the biggest areas of impact is healthcare – especially mental health, where truly immersive VR could be a boon to treating anxieties and fears – from acrophobia (heights) to arachnophobia (spiders) to glossophobia (public speaking) – by carefully exposing patients to digital recreations of the things they fear most.
Already, people are putting the technology to work. The website TechRadar spotlights one program developed by psychologist Fernando Tarnogol, the Anxiety Management Virtual Reality Platform
“Studies have proved that virtual reality therapy can be as effective as in-vivo exposure –being exposed to real heights, for instance – or imaginary exposure,” he tells the site. “The person doesn’t have to be exposed to the real stressor, which is usually a barrier to entering treatment; the person can disengage immediately from the situation should it become unbearable, and the environment and conditions can be structured and tailored to each case.