Recently, Christi spoke at the Digital Health Institute for Transformation’s (DHIT) event, sponsored by Innovate Carolina, to discuss the implications of Extended Reality (XR) in healthcare.
As a non-profit education and research institute, DHIT is on a mission to expedite the digital health transformation process by supporting communities. They achieve this through collaborations with leading academic institutions, associations, and industries. Their immersive learning platform hones real-world experiences that drive the uptake of the skills, capabilities, and mindsets vital to preparing the future’s digital health leaders and innovators, today.
Innovate Carolina, a University-wide initiative, functions as a catalyst for innovation and entrepreneurship. It aids faculty, students, and staff at UNC-Chapel Hill in swiftly translating ideas into world-changing solutions and economic fortifications. The DHIT event coincided with the grand opening of Innovate Carolina’s newest Innovation Hub, The Junction, in Chapel Hill. The Junction is dedicated to nurturing a collaborative and entrepreneurial environment with a focus on generating positive societal impacts.
Speaking at Innovate Carolina's The Junction for the DHIT event
Christi talks during a Q&A hosted by Cindy Hallberlin
At this event, Christi provided insights on the varied benefits of XR technology. She highlighted how Social Virtual Reality (VR) serves as a connecting tool for people who struggle to access events or locations, thus enabling shared experiences. Moreover, she discussed how XR plays a pivotal role in therapeutic interventions and training.
XR as a Training Tool
In her role at UNC School of Medicine, Christi develops immersive training simulations that serve as valuable resources for training healthcare professionals and medical students. She spoke about one of the simulations she designed for UNC Health’s trauma services program during the DHIT event. This simulation offers an immersive Patient Point of View during a trauma resuscitation, where key decisions alter the subsequent events. Users navigate the care team’s next steps, and then immediately experience the results from the patient’s perspective. This tool’s objective is to enhance understanding and empathy for the patient’s perspective, underscoring the importance of communication tools.
Therapeutic Applications and Exercise Through XR
XR technology is shaking up the landscape of therapeutic interventions and exercise due to its vast capabilities. Its immersive nature offers an adaptable platform for simulating various environments and scenarios, essential in both physical and mental therapy.
In the realm of physical therapy, often constrained by logistical and physical limitations, XR is causing a significant upheaval. It can offer an engaging, dynamic, yet controlled environment where patients can perform their rehabilitation exercises. By manipulating scenarios, therapists can design exercise plans tailored to each patient’s needs and progress.
For example, a stroke patient can improve their balance and coordination when we adjust their virtual surroundings, challenging them to maintain equilibrium. Similarly, a patient recovering from a knee surgery could strengthen their muscles by virtually hiking up a mountain or performing a specific set of exercises in a simulated environment. These gamified exercises not only aid in a faster and more effective recovery but also provide an enjoyable and motivating experience for patients.
On the mental health front, XR offers innovative ways to deliver cognitive behavioral therapy. By creating immersive, controlled situations that mimic real-life scenarios, therapists can guide patients through their anxieties or fears, helping them develop coping mechanisms. For example, individuals with social anxiety can practice public speaking in a virtual room filled with an audience, or those with a fear of heights can face their fear in a controlled virtual environment. This process can gradually expose patients to their fears, ultimately helping them manage their reactions and symptoms.
XR is also becoming a popular tool in promoting general well-being through exercise. Fitness applications and games using VR or AR provide immersive experiences that make workouts fun and engaging. By gamifying fitness, these applications motivate individuals to maintain a regular exercise routine, promoting physical health and endurance. Whether it’s performing yoga in a tranquil virtual beach setting, boxing in an interactive game, responding to a virtual obstacle course challenge like in VR Workout, or dancing in a rhythm-based VR game, XR is transforming the way we perceive and engage in physical exercise.
As we continue to explore XR in healthcare, we will likely see an increase in the variety and complexity of applications. These applications can provide an alternative to the current healthcare model in which patients must drive to appointments and/or rely on self-directed sessions at home with little to no immediate personalized feedback. With its immersive and adaptable qualities, XR is positioned at the forefront of the digital health revolution, reshaping our approach towards exercise, therapy, and overall well-being.
Leveraging Social VR to Boost Well-Being
Beyond training and therapeutic applications, XR technology brings an entire universe of Social VR to the table. Social VR, by facilitating shared social experiences, has demonstrated significant potential in promoting mental health and well-being.
When the pandemic struck, people turned to Social VR platforms to escape isolation. Individuals across the globe, regardless of their physical location, could connect with friends in visually striking virtual environments. This offered opportunities for social presence coupled with spatial exploration.
The benefits of Social VR extend beyond mitigating pandemic-induced isolation, however. It serves as a lifeline for those who encounter barriers to physical social experiences in their everyday life, fostering a sense of community and belonging. Through VR, individuals from diverse backgrounds, including retirees and those with health challenges, have found relief from feelings of isolation. They have described with enthusiasm how Social VR has positively influenced their mental health and overall wellbeing.
In VR, these individuals have participated in virtual field trips, live concerts, classes, workshops, and conferences, and engaged in enriching discussions on a variety of topics. Social VR has helped them shatter the barriers of loneliness, amplifying their voices in the virtual realm. As a result, many become inspired to decorate their own virtual spaces, sharing their knowledge, creativity, and stories. The interactions and memories forged contribute to a sense of belonging not just in the Metaverse, but in society at large.
As we delve deeper into the future, XR’s potential to revolutionize health and well-being continues to reveal itself, redefining the realms of healthcare, social connectivity, and individual well-being.
Check out DHIT’s write-up about the event below:
Visit the DHIT Website to read more »