Here’s how virtual reality could transform medical research after COVID-19

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COVID-19 has forced research labs around the world to shut their doors, halting the progress of many medical trials.Virtual reality (VR) could offer scientists a safe alternative for conducting potentially life-saving studies and trials.VR has already been used for research and training simulation and could revolutionize the way we gather, test and apply scientific knowledge. In early March, the behavioural research lab I direct was running multiple research trials, ushering participants through hospital facilities, and coordinating closely through in-person meetings. Then COVID-19 forced research institutions worldwide to shut their doors. We suspended all studies, save for a few that became mission-critical. Now, as the global research community is looking for safe ways to resume trials amid the ongoing pandemic, one option looks particularly promising: virtual reality. Although virtual reality (VR) has not been used broadly in medical research, it boasts a long history in specific areas. VR training simulations have become instrumental in developing and disseminating protocols for providing health care in the context of COVID-19. The efficacy of VR as a medical intervention has been widely studied in areas such as pain management and psychotherapy. For example, virtual reality has been successfully used in exposure therapy, during …

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