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Research Indicates How VR can Radically Revolutionise Eye Tests

According to an IWK Health Centre specialist eye clinics have relied on the same type of techniques for many decades. A group from the IWK Health Centre in Halifax is taking a fresh look at eye testing through a virtual reality (VR) experiment.

The IWK clinic entertains patients across age groups from infants to adults and offers diagnoses based on the individual responses of patients. This makes their job difficult, which is more evident when small children have to be subjected to routine examinations that stretch for an hour.

Dr. Darren Oystreck, an orthoptist at the IWK Health Centre, who is also a part of the Dalhousie University health faculty, approximated that professionals in his line of work have utilised the same modes of testing for six decades to inspect binocular vision disorders and eye alignment problems. According to Oystreck, eyecare has lagged compared to other medical disciplines where there have been remarkable technological advancements. He remarked that imaginative prowess and data collection capabilities in other medical fields are at quite remarkable levels.

Monitoring and recording the reactions of a patient’s eyes. Image source: CBC

Oystreck utilises tools such as pictures, flashlights, and foggy goggles to help children stay focused during whilst he carries on his work. Oystreck and his team decided testing new opportunities last year. In their pursuit, they had joined forces with Ryan Cameron, the CEO of Electric Puppets, a Halifax-based VR company that specialises in VR-based children’s programming.

According to Oystreck, all that was required could easily be applied to other domains such as research for brain injury. Cameron has incorporated age-old vision tests into a VR program. The IWK eye clinic team have benefited from the collaboration as eye doctors can now change settings around and test a broader selection of scenarios, whilst observing the patient’s eyes for recording reactions. There is hope that this approach will be able to yield more precise observations, especially for children.

Oystreck explained that the patients can stay calm and relaxed and gain familiarity with the environment faster, so they are fully prepared for conventional tests. The program is currently being tested out and further research is underway at the hospital. The team has to prove that the results are as precise (or even more precise) than old tests, before creating a peer-reviewed study on the subject.

Ryan Cameron working on the vr programming. Image source: CBC

Steve Van Iderstine, an IWK research associate, highlighted that VR systems were not designed for medical use but has proven useful across many applications. Iderstine expressed hope that there will be a good amount of data to prove that the VR version of these tests is relevant, a year from now. This will enable them to look towards the development of VR-based environments that offer a greater deal of excitement.

According to Cameron, new virtual reality-based environments can be similar to circuses where children feel like they are playing games, but are being tested. Iderstine pointed out that VR systems, being more widely available commercially, are quite cheaper than standard medical equipment, and occupy less space. He is optimistic that VR headsets can be made in smaller sizes for kids.

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