Virtual reality treatment for burn patients – WBRC FOX6 News


Over the past few years, virtual reality has taken off in a number of industries – including the medical field. The technology is a new way to immerse people into digital worlds.

Local doctors are taking advantage of it all, offering relief to burn patients through immersive video games. One example used around the United States is a game called ‘Snow World’. The game uses V-R goggles, immersing the patient’s mind in a 360-degree world of snow and ice. The game allows patients to hit targets with snowballs, taking their minds off their procedures. Dr. Steven Khan from USA Medical Center stopped by our studio during Fox10 News at 4 pm to talk about the technology, and what it means to burn victims. You can watch the interview in the accompanying video.

USA Medical Center’s burn unit issued the following statement about the virtual reality technology:

“This is a state-of-the-art virtual reality headset driven by an extremely powerful computer combining the latest Intel Coffee Lake CPU with dual GeForce GTX 1080(ti) graphics cards.  This top of the line hardware lets us provide patients with complete immersion in artificial environments that promote a soothing, therapeutic milieu. These environments include experiences like walks along tropical beaches, hikes through quiet forests, SCUBA diving, journeys through outer space, as well as more active experiences like 3D painting programs and dodgeball tournaments.

The device works based on the gate-control theory of pain proposed by Melzack and Wall which states that if the brain is completely occupied by non-painful stimuli (such as a hyper-realistic virtual reality environment) that painful things like dressing changes and physical therapy aren’t able to rise to people’s conscious awareness.

Using virtual reality games as part of burn recovery drastically reduces the amount of narcotic pain medication needed during treatment sessions, an important consideration during the current opioid epidemic.

Initial work on this treatment modality was pioneered by Hunter Hoffman of the Human Interface Technology Laboratory out of Harborview and funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, but we are one of the first Burn Centers to use consumer-grade equipment to provide an accessible and user-friendly VR experience for burn survivors.

The Arnold Luterman Burn Center has successfully begun using VR to promote both physical and occupational therapy.  

It’s also an excellent way to alleviate the boredom of the long hospital stays that many burn patients must endure during their treatment. 

Initial trials have been extraordinarily successful with drastic reductions in the severity of their pain and overall improvement of mood and coping status”. 

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