A Dose of PlayStation to Heal Severe Burns Tuesday, May 19, 2009
TAU prescribes Sony's "EyeToy" to speed physical and emotional recovery
Dr. Joseph Haik, "inside" the Sony PlayStation's EyeToy
Many of the half-million burns treated in the U.S. every year lead to permanent scarring, a physical debility that can leave deep mental scars as well. But a new therapy pioneered at Tel Aviv University can dampen the psychological effects of burn injuries and help patients heal faster. Best of all, equipment for this therapy is already available at the neighborhood electronics store.
Dr. Joseph Haik, a plastic surgeon and burn specialist at TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, prescribes the Sony PlayStation EyeToy to his patients as an important part of the burn treatment protocol. The EyeToy is a digital camera, similar to a webcam.
“With our method, patients look into the EyeToy and see their images projected on TV,” he says. “The game recognizes their gestures and shows them to themselves on screen, helping them adjust to what they look like post-burn. That can help combat depression, improve self-image, and encourage patients to move on when other occupational therapies fail.”
Requiring no special modification to the PlayStation, the cost-effective solution serves to distract patients from burn-related pain, Dr. Haik reported in a 2006 study. He has presented his approach to the American Burn Association and to associations around the world.
A Distraction from Pain So Healing Can Begin
Intensive occupational and physical therapy is crucial in minimizing and preventing long-term disability for burn patients, but therapists face a difficult challenge in combating the agonizing pain they experience.
With the EyeToy, they can speed the process of rehabilitation and the return of functional ability, says Dr. Haik, who has used it on dozens of patients, adults and children in Israel at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center-Tel Hashomer Hospital’s Burn Unit and Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
In treatment, a child or adult patient selects an EyeToy PlayStation game he likes and, as he plays the game with an occupational and physical therapist nearby, the healing process begins. “Some doctors prescribe virtual reality game play that requires the patient to wear special equipment, putting them at risk for infection. But our approach doesn’t require the patient to touch a thing,” says Dr. Haik.
A Virtual Way to Cope with Scars
A very important aspect of healing is coming to terms with scars on the face, hands and other exposed body parts. Depression and other symptoms associated with severe burns can make a full recovery more painful and difficult than it may need to be. That's why the EyeToy can be so useful in helping patients to take the first step in accepting a new self image, Dr. Haik explains.
“This game, which projects a person’s body into the game, presents their injuries in an original way,” says Dr. Haik. “Getting an early understanding of how a patient looks to others is critical for overcoming self-image problems later on,” he stresses. “By showing the patient ‘inside’ the PlayStation game, we distract them from some of the immediate physical trauma and pain, which they more gradually learn to accept through game playing.”
According to the American Burn Association, more than half a million Americans were treated for burns in 2007. Some 40,000 of these new cases were treated in a hospital, with 30% of them considered severe burns.
New treatment modalities are very much needed, and, Dr. Haik says, the technology for one of them already exists. He has used the therapy with his own patients for the past several years and looks forward to the start of formal clinical trials.