The field of virtual reality has been a rich ground for science fiction and in most ways we are not as advanced as the writers of the Matrix had envisioned (but how will we know?). However, current forms of virtual reality may prove useful in making you healthier. London marketing firm SapientNitro recently launced “AR Lungs”, an augmented reality application that visualises discoloration and the damages that smoking causes to your lungs. Smokers provide information on the number of years they have smoked and cigarettes smoked per day, and use a computer or smartphone camera to superimpose digital lungs over their own image.
In 1994, psychologist Ralph Lamson was the first to conduct clinical trials of virtual reality in a health-care field. He used the technology to fight acrophobia (fear of heights). ‘Virtual reality immersion therapy’ is now patented by Lamson as a way to treat psychological, psychiatric, educational, medical conditions and self-help problems.
Today virtual reality is successfully used in real physical therapy as well. At the University of Washington Harborview Burn Center, a virtual reality program called Snow World is used in cases of severe burns. Drugs alleviate the pain when patients are resting, however, during wound care severe to excruciating pain is reported even in the presence of opioids. A computer-generated environment, Snow World distracts patients from the wound care, leaving less attention available to process pain signals. The method is proven to reduce both reported pain levels and levels of pain-related brain activity.
Virtual reality solutions are quickly becoming more sophisticated and affordable. The above mentioned examples may be a step in the right direction and it may work better with some kind of union with principles of gamification which make it engaging and competitive to ensure that people stay involved with the process. Also, showing how bad smoking can be is only one part of the equation, the other part of the equation on how it gets better may be a motivating vision even for the most dedicated smokers. It may be very motivating for an ex smoker to see that within 12 hours of quitting their blood oxygen levels have returned to normal and within 1 year their risk of coronary heart disease is about half that of a smoker.