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Virtual reality is increasingly used in healthcare settings, offering obvious training benefits for healthcare workers and patients. Hospitals use it to give clinicians insight into what the patient is going through when suffering from Parkinson’s, for example. Its various uses include anxiety reduction in patients, including children undergoing medical procedures, and pain reduction. However, a problem exists with disinfecting virtual reality equipment surfaces shared with multiple people over time. Without a reduction in virtual reality contamination, utilized and returned equipment can cause illness and infection in other people using the same equipment.
The Problem of Virtual Reality Contamination
Infections acquired during healthcare interventions have been reported in many settings that rely on medical devices. Virtual reality disinfection should reasonably form part of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in all healthcare environments. Yet, one of the most used VR devices, the Meta Oculus Quest 2, carries a warning against disinfecting the device with alcohol as it could damage the materials from which the device is made. Most healthcare facilities use isopropyl, an alcohol, as a disinfectant.
A Research Study into Virtual Reality Disinfection
A research paper published in December 2022 in the Journal of Medical Internet Research explains the study’s outcome to determine the effectiveness of current virtual reality disinfection and offer guidance to prevent virtual reality contamination in healthcare settings. The researchers compared datasets for bacterial counts by the following criteria.
- Type of virtual reality disinfection
- Organism type
- Device surface material.
Researchers surveyed 50 virtual reality technicians from healthcare facilities across the USA to find current disinfection methods. The devices were inoculated with three common bacteria. Bacterial levels were checked, and selected devices were disinfected with isopropyl or quaternary ammonium wipes. Researchers checked the device surfaces to gauge the efficacy of the disinfectant in removing the virtual reality contamination.
They found that 88% of the devices cleaned with isopropyl wipes were completely bacteria-free. Quaternary ammonium wipes were less effective at reducing virtual reality contamination, particularly on porous surfaces.
The most notable outcome of the study was that porous surfaces contained more bacteria after disinfection and lower counts before, implying that the bacteria may have moved into the material pores, which protected those bacteria from disinfection.
Virtual Reality Disinfection Research Recommendations
The researchers recommend that device manufacturers use non-porous materials for device surfaces to prevent virtual reality contamination in future products. Where porous surfaces exist, healthcare workers should cover them with a barrier to reduce the risk of virtual reality contamination and protect the surface from chemical damage.
The researchers further recommend that all healthcare facilities should have SOPs for virtual reality disinfection, pointing out that this requirement is vital in facilities where patients may have suppressed immune systems. Healthcare organizations should continue to embrace new technologies for their client’s benefit while preventing nosocomial transmission.
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