Most of us have probably heard about virtual reality (VR) through the lens of gaming.
As the above examples show, VR can be used to create simulated environments that exactly replicate real life environments to enable testing of methods and user interaction and learning. VR has a growing role in health medicine, whether in surgery, rehabilitation or education.
Take a couple of recent examples at Torbay Hospital. An intensive care patient broke his neck a few years ago, leaving him paralysed and unable to walk or grip with his hands. He was being slowly rehabilitated and was recently hooked up to Virtual Wembury, which enables the patient to virtually cycle through the village of Wembury in South Devon. The patient experiences changing scenery that speeds up as he goes faster, providing a more interactive experience. The patient’s time and distance is recorded, so when he next gets on the virtual bike he can compete against his previous day’s attempt. In human terms, this meant the patient was pushing himself to go further each time, whilst enjoying beautiful scenery and improving his mental wellbeing.
Torbay Hospital is also using VR to improve doctors and nurses’ understanding of the patient’s perspective. For example, a patient journey moving from an ambulance, into a resuscitation bay, and then into theatre is filmed in 3D. Doctors and nurses can study this to discuss the environment, the patient’s state of mind, staff actions and interactions, and how these can affect the patient. The advantage of 3D is that the medical professional can stop the video at any point, look around through 360 degrees and see what the patient sees. This has resulted in doctors having more empathy with their patients.
King’s College Hospital in London has created an app that helps take the fear out of MRI scans for children. In 3D virtual reality, it allows the child to experience the journey from arriving at reception to having the actual scan, along with the loud noises they would hear, from a safe location.
All of the above are fabulous innovations, but what do they have to do with health libraries?
The obvious one is offering VR as an additional learning method within the library. We all provide access to print and electronic books and journals, and often to anatomy software, but all of these are in 2D. What VR can offer is a more immersive experience in 3D. Think about trying to learn what the heart looks like in 2D, or as a static demonstration model. Wouldn’t it be better for students to be able to peel back layers of a body to get to the heart, to be able to walk around it and see it from different angles, see how it interacts with other component parts of the body that are fully labelled, and if they want, pull apart the heart to see what it looks like inside?
As the VR in hospitals examples highlight above, VR can significantly aid patient wellbeing, so why not for staff wellbeing as well? Many health libraries now offer a health and wellbeing section for their employees. VR can help staff escape from their workplace into a different world – whether it is immersing yourself in a garden and hearing the birds singing and water trickling in the pond to being outside on the moors and hearing the wind whistling around you, to moving around in a forest and examining all the local flora and fauna.