Your perspective is reality. True or False? What does your vista look like on an average day? You know those people who live in rainy Seattle lets say, and still have an unflappable sunny disposition. Or vis versa. Those folks who are living in the fast lane, high in their penthouse, but they can’t seem to get out of bed? What if you could jump from your doom and gloom into a wild and beautiful African safari via your healthcare provider and a set of goggles? To reason with this is not so black and white, but it may just be a light at the end of the tunnel. ß
Let me explain. Over the weekend I had the responsibility and privilege of managing our Spring Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine, Brain Awakening. While working, I came across a novel technique that may just serve as an adjunct solution to the crestfallen mind or tortured physicality.
Our agenda was like a candy shop of innovative and boundary-pushing topics in healthcare. We had hyperbaric oxygen therapy as an adjunct to brain healing, evolutionary immunity differences between the genders, parabiosis-based treatments, and the neuro-modulating effects of cannabinoids. And all of this was just the beginning.
More than anything else, technology (as to be expected) took center stage. One of our keynotes in particular, Dr. Brennan Spiegel, wowed the audience with a glimpse into the futuristic world of healthcare where virtual reality isn’t just a game to prevent your hospital ennui. It is a tool to monitor and improve your health.
The picture of hospitals in 2018, which Dr. Spiegel painted vividly, is bleak. He referred to the hospital room as a ‘bio-psycho-social jail cell.’ Considering my various stints in hospitals around the country, I couldn’t agree more. Patients are staring at the ceilings, a crummy TV, or rotating physician faces whom they may or may not know from adam. Generally no patient wants to be there, especially patients suffering from chronic pain.
Enter goggles. But like really special, high tech ones. Dr. Spiegel elucidated on the clinical trials he is running at Cedars-Sinai in Las Angeles where he is treating chronic pain patients with VIRTUAL REALITY. Yes, with goggles he is transporting patients to realities of their choice- green jungle faunas, or colorful tulip fields. Once there the patient is immersed in a glorious present reality. Can’t you just see the feel good wires of the brain lighting up? And there is some statistically relevant outcomes. Pain scores are dropping -especially in burn patient cohorts- but more studies are needed.
Understandably Dr. Spiegel was accosted after his lecture. The audience is mostly internists or general practitioners, not your average silicon valley types, but that is the difference with VR. It is implementable and measurable! Not a convoluted telemedicine or EMR software that takes years to integrate with a practice It is a pretty seamless interlocking of systems. Your Virtual Reality manufacturer becomes another pharmacy of sorts for your patient and your physician can track your pain scores remotely and make judgments on how to better use the VR therapy.
Obesity is another area where virtual reality is leaking into the literature. The Proteus Effect, the theory that the behavior of an individual confirms to his/her digital self-representation, is confirmed by much of the initial work. Basically when you are looking at your avatar, minus 20 pounds, you are less likely to eat ice cream or drink sugary drinks because you are now more emotionally engaged and present with your trimmed-down self.
I strongly believe technology is not an omnipresent demi-god for humanity to bend backwards for, but I do believe thoughtfully-designed technology can and should partner with humanity for the sake of patient outcomes and improving healthcare delivery. Virtual Reality is one of the more concise examples of where this is being done. Learn more here.