health, medicine

Virtual Reality in Medicine – many evolving uses and advantages

Virtual reality techniques, involving three-dimensional imaging and surround sound, are increasingly being used in diagnosis, treatment, and medical education. Initial applications of virtual reality in medicine involved visualization of the complex data sets generated by computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. A recent application of these techniques for diagnostic purposes has been the “virtual colonoscopy,” in which data from a contrast-enhanced abdominal CT scan is used to make a “fly-through” of the colon. Radiologists then use this fly-through for colon cancer screening. Recent improvements in methodology have brought the sensitivity and specificity of this technique closer to the levels of optical colonoscopy, and patients prefer the technique to the traditional method.

Virtual reality has also been used extensively to treat phobias (such as a fear of heights, flying and spiders) and post-traumatic stress disorder. This type of therapy has been shown to be effective in the academic setting, and several commercial entities now offer it to patients. In one of my projects using the multi-user virtual reality environment offered by Second Life, one of several easily available online virtual reality environments, we have used a virtual psychosis environment to teach medical students about the auditory and visual hallucinations suffered by patients with schizophrenia.

Virtual reality has been used to provide medical education about healthcare responses to emergencies such as earthquakes, plane crashes and fires. While the primary advantage in phobia treatment is a “safe environment” which patients can explore, the primary advantage in emergency preparedness is simulation of events that are either too rare or too dangerous for effective real-world training. The immersive nature of the virtual reality experience helps to recreate the sense of urgency or panic associated with these events.

Virtual reality programs have also been used for a variety of medical emergency, mass casualty, and disaster response training sessions for medical and public health professionals. One study developed a protocol for training physicians to treat victims of chemical-origin mass casualties as well as victims of biological agents using simulated patients. Although it was found that using standardized patients for such training was more realistic, the computer-based simulations afforded a number of advantages over the live training. These included increased cost effectiveness, the opportunity to conduct the same training sessions over and over to improve skills, and the ability to use “just-in-time” learning techniques and experience the training session at any time and location, while adjusting the type and level of expertise required to use the training for various emergency response professionals. Others have explored the potential for training emergency responders for major health emergencies using virtual reality. Their objective was to increase exposure to life-like emergency situations to improve decision-making and performance and reduce psychological distress in a real health emergency.

Experience with recent natural disasters and terrorist acts has shown that good communication and coordination between responders is vital to an effective response. In my work using Second Life to develop a virtual mass disaster emergency clinic to hand out antibiotics to the …


Exercise And Fitness; Where Do I Start?

Exercise and fitness can be very intimidating as choices range from Pilates classes and cardio machines to personal trainers – that it’s hard to know what to sign up for. Here are some suggestions.

The first time you walk into a fitness gym it can be very intimidating. So many decisions to make, and the choices are many. There is a full slate of fitness classes to choose from, and there is a well stocked gym with trainers at your disposal. It’s hard to know what to do to meet your needs.

Let’s look at what most gyms offer and what is best for you. Most gyms offer group exercise classes under a variety of categories. There’s fitness in a boot camp style, dance classes like aerobics, there’s mind/body (yoga, Pilates) and muscular conditioning where weights are used with the exercises.

Usually the classes are 30 to 90 minutes long and offered two or three times a week and included in the price of your membership.

Intensity varies depending on the instructor who demonstrates the exercises giving cues on proper execution. Exercisers follow along and monitor their own intensity.

The plus about this is that a group setting can be a motivating factor as can the instructor. This is also good for beginners who might not know the difference between certain exercises and how to perform them properly.

There’s usually a wide variety of classes to choose from, so the experienced exerciser can always find a new and fresh workout.

The negative is that these group sessions are made up of mostly women and so men might be a bit intimidated or feel out of place. These classes are designed for many and so individual needs might not be met.

A new format is small groups of three to six people working out. This is similar to the large group in that there is an instructor, but here the instructor will also spend some one-on-one time coaching during the actual session.

Classes are usually 60 to 90 minutes long, two or three times a week and offer specialized exercise equipment like barbells and even treadmills. You might have to pay an extra fee to take this type of class.

The positive about this group can be motivation from being pushed by those around you without getting lost in the crowd. There is more interaction with the instructor and so more control and probably better results as far as reaching your goals.

The negatives are that it costs extra and there are fewer options as far as the type of class you take. Because the group is small you need to get along with the others in the group.

There is personal training which means one-on-one training with a personal trainer who sets up and individual routine for you based on your fitness level and goals. Working with a trainer lets you use more equipment and sessions are usually 60 minutes long.

The positives of this type of training are that …

fitness, health

Health And Fitness For Kids – Ten Steps For A Healthier Life

Today more than ever it is harder to maintain a healthy lifestyle with sedentary pastimes such as watching television, playing video games and surfing the Internet competing for our kid’s time and replacing more physical activities.

Combined with the easy availability and low cost of unhealthy processed foods or ‘junk food’, then this can have an impact on children’s health, not only throughout their childhood but leading into adulthood causing serious health problems at a later date.

It is therefore important to make a concerted effort to ensure children lead a healthy lifestyle and maintain overall fitness. However it can be difficult to make a start and to inspire your kids to follow your lead, so we have compiled a list of ten tips to help you along the road to health and happiness.

1) Involve the Whole Family – Sometimes kids can be reluctant to take part in sports and games, especially if they think that they are being ‘forced’ to do them against their will. Children take their lead from their parents so if they see their parents taking part in sports and fitness then they are more than likely to want to copy. Ensuring that the whole family stay fit and healthy can provide the right motivation for the less reluctant child to get involved. Embracing a healthier lifestyle yourself can help teach a child that they need to do the same.

It doesn’t have to be all about playing ‘football’. For instance a family outing to the zoo, theme park or local attraction such as a ruined castle will keep kids on their feet, give them something interesting to see and do whilst keeping them fit at the same time. Making an effort to have days out where the whole family joins in can lead to a child having an overall healthier lifestyle.

2) Use ‘Active’ Transport – Ditching the car when possible and either walking or cycling instead can help keep the whole family fit and healthy. Perhaps this means walking to school instead of taking the car or maybe a trip to the local park or shops can be accomplished by cycling there instead.

Although it may not be possible for everyone to ditch the car so easily due to distance or time constraints the occasional journey can still perhaps be substituted. Not only is walking or cycling better for your health, it can save you money and help the environment- all great examples to set your kids!

3) Regular Exercise – The key to staying fit and healthy for both adults and children alike is to exercise regularly. Try to schedule exercise activities (whatever they might be) at regular intervals but do let your kids set the pace. As soon as a child feels they are being forced to take part in a ‘fitness’ regime then you may start to get some resistance and refusal to join in.

Pushing your kids beyond their limits may have a negative impact on them wanting to …