Tracking the evolution of virtual reality applications to rehabilitation as a field of study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: Application of virtual reality (VR) to rehabilitation is relatively recent with clinical implementation very rapidly following technological advancement and scientific discovery. Implementation is often so rapid that demonstrating intervention efficacy and establishing research priorities is more reactive than proactive. This study used analytical tools from information science to examine whether application of VR to rehabilitation has evolved as a distinct field of research or is primarily a methodology in core disciplines such as biomedical engineering, medicine and psychology. Methods: The analysis was performed in three-stages: 1) a bibliographic search in the ISI Web of Science database created an initial corpus of publications, 2) the corpus was refined through topic modeling, and 3) themes dominating the corpus from the refined search results were identified by topic modeling and network analytics. This was applied separately to each of three time periods: 1996 to 2005 (418 publications), 2006 to 2014 (1454 publications), and 2015 to mid-2018 (1269 publications). Results: Publication rates have continuously increased across time periods with principal topics shifting from an emphasis on computer science and psychology to rehabilitation and public health. No terminology specific to the field of VR-based rehabilitation emerged; rather a range of central concepts including "virtual reality", "virtual gaming", "virtual environments", "simulated environments" continue to be used. Communities engaged in research or clinical application of VR form assemblages distinguished by a focus on physical or psychological rehabilitation; these appear to be weakly linked through tele-rehabilitation. Conclusions: Varying terms exemplify the main corpus of VR-based rehabilitation and terms are not consistent across the many scientific domains. Numerous distinguishable areas of research and clinical foci (e.g., Tele-rehabilitation, Gait & Balance, Cognitive Rehabilitation, Gaming) define the agenda. We conclude that VR-based rehabilitation consists of a network of scientific communities with a shared interest in the methodology rather than a directed and focused research field. An interlinked team approach is important to maintain scientific rigor and technological validity within this diverse group. Future studies should examine how these interdisciplinary communities individually define themselves with the goals of gathering knowledge and working collectively toward disseminating information essential to associated research communities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number76
JournalJournal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation
Volume16
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 21 Jun 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Author(s).

Keywords

  • Interdisciplinary
  • Scientific communities
  • Topic modeling
  • Virtual rehabilitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Rehabilitation

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