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The Life-Changing Impact of VR for Pain Management

Every day we see patient’s helped by the our work we do using VR to allow them to manage their pain and anxiety. When we watched this incredibly inspirational talk by Kay Smith it chimed with everyone in the office.

Kay is an inspiration and talks movingly about her personal journey experimenting with VR to help manage her pain. As she powerfully says...

Let's use the technology for your patients’ todays, not their tomorrows, because some of us do not have tomorrow.

In this is a TSA video, “When the Drugs Don’t Work,” by Kay Smith,  you hear her talking about the power of VR for pain management.  Check it out for yourself...

 
An Anonymous Patient

If you rather 'read' instead of watch, we thought we would give you some idea of Kay's experience...

Kay Smith is many things. She is a mother and a daughter.  She is a patient and a patient advocate. She’s even a scuba diver.  In her talk, she asks us to view her as an anonymous patient - and she speaks as a client and as a service user.  

As Kay says she is not a service user because she is in a wheelchair, she is a service user because she is dying.  Kay has lupus and is currently in palliative care. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that has a cascading effect.

Kay Smith

The cascade for Kay has now turned into five different autoimmune diseases. One, in particular, is called mast cell activation syndrome, MCAS for short.  There is little known about this disease, but what it means for Kay is that it prevents her from taking any medication that can treat her lupus. Because of this, the lupus has taken over her internal organs. Kay is now allergic to antibiotics, painkillers, and most other medications.  As a result, she is expected to pass away from sepsis at some point in the future.

Scuba Diving with VR

To cope with her illness, Kay joined an online support group. When she completed her profile, she included a letter from her doctor explaining why she was palliative care. It was through the group that she met a woman named Helen Shaw, the CEO of Samsung Healthcare.  It was Helen who introduced Kay to VR, virtual reality, as a drug-free pain management alternative.

As a self-described, non-technical person, Kay had no preconceptions or expectations about putting on a VR headset.  The device arrived and was simple enough to set up. She connected it to her phone and downloaded a few apps. In a previous life, Kay was an avid scuba diver, so those were the programs she chose for her first VR experience.  

The experience of scuba diving through virtual reality was so immersive that Kay felt like she was actually diving. Her legs were moving, and she was swimming. It was her bubbles that she could see and it was her breathing she could hear. It brought her back to the time before her body was overtaken by illness.  

45 minutes later, her life had changed.

45 minutes later, her life had changed. For the first time in two and a half years, not only was Kay pain-free, but she felt she had received the most priceless gift she could ever imagine.  VR had given her back her “self.” The experience of VR scuba diving reminded her of who she was. It reminded her that she is more than just a patient in a gown in a hospital ward. It also made her realise that she didn’t want to be stuck in her house every day in too much pain to do anything.

Kay Smith 2

The Biggest Innovation in Healthcare

VR has completely changed Kay’s outlook.  What began as pain relief has become pain management. By using VR at certain times during the day, Kay can spend the day pain free. This has allowed her to complete her bucket list.   She’s seen the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, stared up at the northern lights, and thrown a coin in the Trevi Fountain in the hopes of another trip to Italy.

Her experience with VR was so impactful that Kay calls it the biggest innovation in healthcare ever. It has the potential to go beyond palliative care. It can help patients with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.  It can even help children who are nervous about undergoing medical procedures.

VR Can Make an Immediate Difference

VR is not a medical device.  It connects to your mobile phone, and these days, just about everyone has a mobile phone.  All you need is the headset. This life-changing technology is available now. It does not need research; it’s built on 30 years of research.  This is something that can help patients immediately. There’s no need for committees or commissions because it is not a medical device.

Kay has had so much success with VR for pain management that she even used it during a recent surgical procedure.  She had an operation to remove precancerous cells from numerous places on her body. Wearing her VR headset, she felt far from the operating theater and experienced no pain while she was exploring the depths of the sea in her scuba app.  At one point, she exclaimed, “Wow!” The surgical team stopped and asked Kay if she was in pain. “No,” she said, “I just saw a whale shark swim by.”

A Necessary Option for Patients

As a true believer in the power of virtual reality for patient care, Kay believes that healthcare providers need to make this an option for their patients.  No one should be sitting at home like she was, in too much pain to live their life. Virtual reality can change that. It can get people out for afternoon tea instead of sitting at home waiting for the Grim Reaper.  This technology is available now, and we need to make use of it now. “Make a difference now,” she rallies, “let's use the technology for your patients’ todays, not their tomorrows, because some of us do not have tomorrow.”

Kay’s words affected the whole team and drives us all to remember the impact our work can have. We’re passionate and determined to raise the awareness of immersive tech, get more people using VR and find new ways to help patients, mothers, wives, sons and grand-daughters.

Kevin Moss

Written by Kevin Moss

As Product Development Director Kevin is obsessed with making all aspects of Rescape’s products and content simple, intuitive and beautiful. Kevin has over 20 years of digital experience managing multi-disciplinary teams. He has been at the forefront of technology working in digital product development, content creation (gaming and video) and innovation marketing. Recently as Creative Innovation Director within Dentsu Aegis he helped clients evaluate the impact of new technologies including projects for VR, AR and voice. He co-founded a digital agency which he sold to WPP and has worked in multiple startups. He has worked with bluechip clients including PlayStation, Lego, Sony, BBC, Honda, Channel 4 - from devising a Bafta-nominated digital drama to designing PlayStation Online.