Monday, October 8, 2007

Virtual Reality and the Ethics of Cyberspace

A recent Washington Post article “Real Hope in aVirtual World" tells how “rehabilitation” in cyberspace has helped Susan Brown , a 57 year old woman, recover from a severe stroke, Roberto Salvatierra a 32 year old man in Costa Rica, in his struggle with agoraphobia , and John Dawley III, who has Asperger syndrome, improve his reading of social cues.

Harnessing virtual reality for therapy isn't new. Three years ago Scientific American described systematic studies how a virtual SnowWorld reduced pain in burn patients. The Navy put $4 million into virtual therapy experiments as treatment for PTSD.

The Internet is the wild west of today's health care. Caveat emptor -- let the buyer beware -- is the guiding ethical principle for those who surf for therapy in the virtual world. Health professionals can't control what happens on the web, but since many people turn to doctors and nurses for guidance clinicians should educate themselves enough to give advice about how to assess the ethical quality of cyber-offers.

Not many of us can do this yet but we need to learn. We give advice about what medications can be trusted and when a heavily advertised nostrum is quackery. Patients will soon start to expect real guidance about the virtual world.

No comments: