Virtual Reality in Maine: Part 2 

We’re hearing the term “virtual reality” more and more.

The technology is becoming increasingly popular and not just for entertainment.

Virtual reality devices are more affordable than ever before.

Military members, first responders, and medical professionals are using virtual reality to train for their jobs.

Recently TV5 News spoke with a local doctor who is garnering attention from across the globe for his work with emerging technologies.

Rafael Grossmann is a trauma surgeon in Bangor.

He calls himself a healthcare futurist.

“My goal is just to basically improve the way we care for patients and improve the way we teach the next generation of caregivers, you know, of providers,” said Grossmann.

Grossmann helped spearhead an initiative expanding the reach of his hospital’s telemedicine program, using iPod touches to connect patients in rural Maine with doctors in Bangor.

“I thought this is going to change medicine in a way,” said Grossmann.

In 2013, he became the first surgeon ever to use Google Glass in the operating room, streaming the procedure to a Google hangout where students and medical professionals watched live.

That launched what’s practically become a second career for Grossmann.

The native of Venezuela delivers speeches across the globe, including a series of TED talks on the integration of technology in medicine.

“Becoming a speaker is probably the best way to share this passion and to ignite other people to do stuff so that the change happens,” said Grossmann.

Grossmann regularly receives prototypes of products from tech companies.

He routinely posts 360 degree videos on his blog, demonstrating medical procedures that can be viewed through virtual reality headsets.

“Now if you use a simulated scenario, you can do the surgery while sipping coffee in a conference room, looking out of this viewer,” said Grossmann.

Students at the University of Maine’s VEMI Lab are also learning how virtual reality can benefit healthcare.

Toni Kaplan is researching ways VR can relieve symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and anxiety.

“Seasonal affective disorder is normally treated with bright light therapy and there’s a question of whether or not the light needs to make contact with the eyes to facilitate symptom relief or if there’s a more psychological component with it as well that this sort of immersion can help.,” said Kaplan.

She’s conducting a study where volunteers will sit in front of a light therapy box for 20 minutes while wearing a VR headset, looking at a beach landscape she designed and animated.

“There’s sound with it. Every once in a while a seagull comes by. You can see this beach ball blowing around. The buoy moves. The clouds are slowly moving,” said Kaplan.

Head mounted displays such as the Oculus or HTC Vive can be purchased for $800 or less.

Low end VR headsets, designed for use with cell phones, retail for $15. A windfall for those eager to embrace the immersive technology.

Toni Kaplan, the UMaine student studying the effects of virtual reality anxiety and seasonal affective disorder, will begin her research this summer.

Dr. Grossmann is an avid blogger and social media user.

You learn more about his work here.