SECTION I. Introductory Perspective

Virtual Reality for Health and Rehabilitation

SETTING THE SCENE

The use of virtual reality (VR) is captured within this edited volume. It not only provides contributions from researchers transnationally but also importantly represents the far reaching application(s) of VR in an array of health and rehabilitation settings. This book is in part a celebration of the emerging and sustained applications of VR by researchers and practitioners alike, and henceforth, up and coming chapters reaffirm the utility of VR technology, which is anticipated to add value to readers transnationally.

The book begins by demonstrating the application of VR for neurological rehabilitation. This remains a large section of this book and continues to represent a large volume of VR use around the world (Section II). The book then draws from experienced educators that currently utilize VR technology in tertiary educational settings. We see the application of virtual simulation for the use of ultrasound, in response to a shortage in clinical supervision. In addition, we see the advantages of VR use for cancer treatment and interventional procedures, facilitating the training and education of diagnostic and therapeutic radiographers. Section IV combines the notion of gamification within the VR sphere, whereby gameplay and reward are interlinked to enhancing health outcomes. The final section of this book, then, captures the emerging clinical applications of VR, in particular, aphasia, orthopaedics, paediatrics and loss of vision and weight management.

It is anticipated this book will be of use to a number of audiences. First, for undergraduate students, the examples provide insight for learning and understanding about VR technology within contemporary health and rehabilitation environments. Second, classroom will find the content useful for knowledge transfer, whilst also utilizing topics for class discussion. Lastly, it is anticipated that postgraduate students and early career researchers will find the content and references helpful in order to define their own research objectives and importantly uncover unique areas of VR research. This introductory chapter will now provide a brief overview of VR, identify its role in contemporary practice, coincided with its role in a Coronavirus (COVID-19) world.

WHAT IS VIRTUAL REALITY?

The development of VR in recent years has evolved in light of technological advances associated with enhanced computing power and advances in graphical and three dimension representations. Devices that help enhance the experience are those that are closely linked to the human senses, notably visual, auditory, haptic and olfactory. These sensory connections between humans and technology enable individuals to resemble experiences that may be part of the real world. VR, then, is a concept that aims to simulate an experience, which is either similar or different to the real world around us, but replicated within a digital sphere. As we write this chapter and bring together this edited book volume, the unknown prospect of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an immediate physical disconnect and ‘touch’ with family, friends, colleagues and society. In response, whilst our social distancing in society has led to an increase in ‘virtual connectedness’, it does bring into question the relevance of VR becoming increasingly integrated and managed into our everyday lives. Further, not only for the fulfilling clinical contexts but also for the purpose of remaining safe and well, as individuals in society. In addition to the widely recognized concept of VR, augmented reality (AR) is also generally accepted through an interactive experience of real-world environments and is encompassed through objects that reside in the real world, using multiple sensory tools. The role of AR has three central facets in order for it to be considered ‘augmented’; (1) combines real and virtual worlds; (2) provides real-time interaction and (3) accurately provides 3D registration of virtual and real objects. In short, AR alters the perception of a real-world environment, whereas VR completely replaces the participant’s real-world environment with a simulated one.

VR has classically been utilized in a number of environments prior to emerging in the health and rehabilitation context. Jaron Lanier, for instance, in the late 1980s built a digital model using a graphic interface, a VR environment, which used external devices in order to facilitate the interaction with graphical elements of that environment. Today, VR is home to no discipline and whilst first observed within the computer gaming industry and enhancing cinematic experiences, it now plays a significant role in medical training (Ruthenbeck and Reynolds, 2015), aviation (Eschen et al, 2018), training for the military (Bhagat, Liou and Chang, 2016) and healthcare in general. In short, a VR system provides an interface between the individual and a computer, which can be supported by sensors and a viewer, usually fixed to the user’s head. Furthermore, multisensory trackers capture movements of a user and can now send quantifiable data for research/audit purposes with real-time visualization (Moloney et al, 2018). The multifaceted uses within a multivariate professional space shares a common goal (and remains a central facet throughout this book): that of enhancing the visual, auditory, haptic and/or olfactory experience of individuals in order to assist in the healthcare delivery and rehabilitation.

 
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