11 September

Will VR save the world?

Opinion Artsenkrant Tom Braekeleirs

Tom Braekeleirs, director BlueHealth Innovation Center, gives his opinion about Virtual Reality. As a kid, born and raised in Ghent, we went to the annual carnival around Easter. The fishing pond, the bumper cars, cotton candy or dough balls from Abel... Pure nostalgia. I still remember vividly one year suddenly a new kind of attraction arrived, a Virtual Reality Rollercoaster. Just next to the legendary ' Yellow House ' (for the non-Gentians: A French fries shop in the Overpoort).

What was innovative was that you could have a full roller coaster experience on a few square meters. It consisted of a small cabin that could seat 4 people, on a screen a virtual roller coaster was projected, and the cabin moved violently. I didn't know what to feel when I came out. Amazed, astonished, magical, but sick as a dog. It could also have been those fries, or especially that third bratwurst...

Then already, we knew that VR was something new. And today it finds its entrance into healthcare. I don’t want to start a semantic discussion on whether it is virtual, augmented or mixed reality. The fact is that today we see concrete applications that start to put some wheels in motion.

Will VR save the world? I am going to have to keep the answer to that question to myself, simply because I don’t have it. However, if we learn anything from the applications that are already out there, a lot is possible, with often unexpected effects. And it's still fun too...

One of these fascinating applications is Oncomfort, a small start-up from Louvain-La-Neuve which makes applications based on VR technology to help patients cope with pain, anxiety and stress. They can even bring patients into a hypnotic state, so surgeons can operate without anesthesia. This opens a range of possibilities for people who, for example, respond badly to anesthesia. That application is not yet being used in our country, but it is already used by several hospitals to calm down children before an intervention. Or to help cancer patients cope with stress. We are only at the beginning of these types of applications, but they are already working. The first time I could test the solution from Oncomfort, I had the same experience as at the carnival. Within a few minutes I was out of this world. And astonished, amazed, but less sick. It must have been the third bratwurst.

This opinion article from Tom Braekeleirs was published in Dutch in Artsenkrant.

Source photo: Artsenkrant, © Hollandse Hoogte / Flip Franssen