Extended Reality Applications for Primary Care: CI MED Professor's Research Snapshots Futuristic Care

January 12, 2024
Beth Hart

Written by Beth Hart

Imagine your doctor prescribing virtual reality goggles along with your refill of anti-anxiety medication. Clinicians are tapping into extended reality technologies for use in specialties such as surgery, and now there’s evidence of an emerging trend to incorporate these tools in primary health care, according to a new study co-authored by a Carle Illinois College of Medicine professor. The research provides a snapshot of current efforts across the globe to leverage technologies like VR to advance general medical practice, with applications for mental health, pain management, and relief of procedure-related anxiety.

<em>Roberto Galvez</em>
Roberto Galvez

"The use of XR with medical care is a rapidly growing, exciting direction that has multiple possible implications towards a clinician’s ability to educate, diagnose, and treat individuals,” said CI MED Teaching Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies Roberto Galvez, who co-authored the study along with a team of international researchers. “Unfortunately, as is the case with many rapidly developing fields, it is often difficult to discern which XR clinical applications have scientifically tested benefits. Our systematic review examined which applications of XR technology have been shown to be clinically beneficial."

Extended reality is a broad term for technology that alters the user’s view of reality with virtual displays, projections, or experiences. Augmented reality (AR) supplements the real-world experience by overlaying it with virtual media, while virtual reality (VR) uses headsets or goggles to create a more immersive experience of a virtual environment. Their use by medical educators and clinicians in specialties such as surgery has far outpaced adoption for patient-centered primary care.

Galvez’s team reviewed existing research studies conducted in countries worldwide, including Singapore, Spain, Brazil, Sweden, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. They discovered several key areas of medical practice in which extended reality has been applied in the primary care setting and found other areas of potential future application.

  • Immunization and procedure anxiety: Several studies suggest that VR technology may be useful as a distraction technique to reduce fear, anxiety, and even pain in children receiving immunizations. One study suggests VR applications may also help calm parents’ fears. “These applications offer an exciting potential use for this technology, especially as healthcare tries to reduce the use of commonly prescribed addictive pain medications,” Galvez said.
  • Mental health: Studies showed potential benefits of VR in mindfulness training and treatment of people with panic disorders and agoraphobia. “These studies using VR to help treat mental conditions, allowing the patient to have more individualized care, and increasing access to rural communities, provide an initial glimpse into future possibilities for this technology both within this field and other specialties,” Galvez said.
  • Health promotion: Galvez’s team concluded VR may provide a more effective delivery method for information that promotes healthy behaviors, such as patient adherence to treatment plans.

“The studies reviewed in this publication help to shine a light on this exciting field while also bringing attention to the many potential areas in medical care that could benefit from XR mediums but have not yet been scientifically explored,” Galvez explained. The team’s findings were published in the journal Virtual Worlds.

Carle Illinois College of Medicine is a leader in the use of extended and mixed-reality technologies to advance clinical practice and medical education. Under the leadership of Dean Mark Cohen, CI MED was chosen as the first medical school in the world to implement the MediView XR90 augmented reality system into its education, innovation, and clinical programs.

Editor’s note: The team’s article titled ‘The Integration and Application of Extended Reality (XR) Technologies within the General Practice Primary Medical Care Setting: A Systematic Review’ was published in November 2023.

Share this story

This story was published January 12, 2024.