How virtual reality is helping physicians treat anxious patients: 5 notes

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A range of businesses — from airlines to spas to dentist offices — are beginning to use virtual reality to help employees and customers relax, CNN reports.

Here are five notes on how VR is entering the healthcare industry:

1. VR headsets haven't taken off in the consumer market, but businesses have begun investing in them in various contexts, as recent research has suggested VR can reduce pain and anxiety. Although it's not clear why VR can reduce these sensations, it may be related to the technology's ability to distract users from their physical surroundings.

2. One startup bringing VR to the healthcare industry is Operability, which uses the technology to allow dental patients to watch nature scenes during appointments. The goal is to help anxious patients, according to Bryan Laskin, DDS, a dentist and founder of Operability.

3. Dr. Laskin said the startup's VR service, OperaVR, has a "profound" sedation effect, according to CNN. At his practice — which he says is one of 100 using the technology — VR is used more than nitrous oxide. "Once we have a headset on the patient, and they're relaxed, it's a better experience for everybody," he said.

4. Ramon Llamas, a mobile, VR and augmented-reality analyst at market research firm IDC, told CNN he expects health- and wellness-related VR applications to become more common in the future. Hospitals across the globe have already begun to investigate this potential.

Stanford (Calif.) University, for example, is testing how VR can ease the anxiety of pediatric patients and their parents who are Spanish speakers with limited English proficiency, and the Saint-Joseph Hospital in Paris is testing an immersive VR program in its emergency room.

5. Despite its potential to enhance patient care, there are some concerns to consider, according to Mr. Llamas. Some users report getting sick or dizzy while using VR headsets, and there's also a learning curve, as someone must be tasked with familiarizing new users with how the device works.

Another potential issue is ensuring the headsets and VR software always work smoothly, which is chiefly a concern in the medical field. "The last thing you want is in the middle of a root canal something going wrong," Mr. Llamas told CNN.

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