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Transforming Palliative Healthcare Through Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality is transforming patient care in both hospice and hospital settings.  Virtual Reality provides a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment that can be interactively explored by the user. The person is immersed in the virtual world where they have the ability to manipulate objects and perform actions relevant to the simulated environment.  With Virtual Reality, or VR, healthcare providers can deliver solutions that can improve the patient experience and patient well-being, as well as offering education and training tools.

The DR.VR Experience

Rescape Innovations offers a fully customisable VR experience for the healthcare environment.  The company specialises in producing 360-degree virtual reality tours giving medical professionals a new medium to communicate and engage with patients and prospective patients.  From facility tours to procedure processes, their VR solutions provide information and distraction therapy. When the mind is distracted by an immersive experience, stimuli from reality can become subdued. Pain, anxiety, and stress can all feel reduced by the patient when immersed in Virtual Reality.

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VR for Hospice Patients

VR has multiple uses in a hospice setting.  The thought of going into hospice care as an inpatient or outpatient can be very stressful. VR can be used to help to alleviate fears and also help people feel more connected to their friends and families.

Patients entering hospice care often do so with a great amount of anxiety.  With VR, facilities can communicate what new patients and residents can expect when coming to a hospice.  A virtual tour of a hospice can showcase not just the facility itself, but also the people and services it provides.  Current research has shown that Virtual Reality can help reduce anxiety, which may be helpful for people who are apprehensive about entering hospice care.  Not only is this type of 360-degree tour helpful for patients, but it may also help put their families at ease as well. A VR tour can show patients and their families what a welcoming place a hospice can be, full of life and friendly faces. Having this experience can help patients to feel more confident, better informed, and more comfortable before they arrive.

A Sense of Connection

Oftentimes, in hospice and healthcare settings, patients become depressed because they have been removed from their family and friends. While they may still have visitors, they may not be able to attend special events like weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries.  Through VR, these patients can live these moments as if they were there.

Take, for example, a patient who was suffering from dementia and was unable to attend her only son’s wedding. When she would remember the upcoming wedding, she had feelings of guilt, sadness, and even anger that she could not attend. The hospice staff decided that since she could not go to the wedding, they would bring the wedding to her.

With the use of DR.VR Plus, the staff was able to film the wedding ceremony and celebration, from the vows to the first dance.  They took the footage and then integrated it back into the DR.VR Plus system so the patient could “attend” her son’s wedding. What Virtual Reality offered over a photo album or traditional video was the feeling of really being there. The patient could see herself sitting in a pew. She could look around the chapel and watch the bride walk down the aisle to her son, just as if she were there. The impressiveness of the VR experience provided her with the sensation and feelings that she had actually been a part of the wedding festivities.

Another example was a great-grandmother who, as a hospice patient, felt like she was missing out on important family milestones.  When her great-granddaughter was turning 5 years old, a family member was able to film the birthday party with a special camera. They captured the girl as she blew out her candles and opened her presents, including one from her great-grandmother.  While the woman watched the celebration through a VR headset, she opened her arms as the child approached and said, “Thanks very much for the present, Granny.” This experience provided the patient a feeling of connectedness that could not have been achieved with a phone call, photos, or a regular video.

These examples show how VR technology like DR.VR can help patients feel like they are still part of their family. Extended hospital stays can frequently cause feelings of loneliness and isolation as patients miss special events and visits from family and friends become less frequent.  Using personalised VR experiences to keep patients connected to their families, friends, pets, and communities can alleviate depression, anxiety, and stress.

Relieving Procedure Anxiety

VR can also be used to help reduce anxiety before a medical procedure. Whether a patient is nervous about going into an MRI machine or a simple outpatient procedure, VR can relieve that anxiety by showing them what to expect.  For example, a person may be having panic attacks about an upcoming MRI. Even though the brain clearly knows the procedure is helpful, and the machine will not cause any harm, there is a fear of the unexpected. With VR, the patient can learn exactly what the procedure will be like to help reduce anxiety levels.  VR has also been particularly effective for reducing anxiety in children prior to surgery. A virtual reality tour of the operating room shows children what to expect and can help reduce preoperative anxiety.

Distraction Therapy for Pain

Another use for VR in a clinical setting is as a distraction therapy to relieve pain and reduce the need for anesthesia. Sedation can be risky for some patients, including those who are frail or very elderly, and some hospitals are offering these patients VR headsets as a way to help control pain during minimally invasive procedures. Similarly, VR has been shown to reduce pain in the treatment of burn victims and for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. VR is even making injections and other painful or potentially frightening procedures less distressing to children.

The Power of VR

With so much to offer, VR therapy is changing the landscape of how the healthcare industry treats pain and anxiety. Technologies like DR.VR are being seen as tools that can help patients in a variety of ways. Whether it’s staying connected while receiving palliative care, reducing pain while undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy, or alleviating anxiety about a medical procedure, VR offers a powerful alternative to standard treatments.

Phil Ashwell

Written by Phil Ashwell

Phil Ashwell is Partnership Manager here at Rescape. He's always been a bit of tech geek, but is not much of a gamer; his era was much more Space Invaders and Mission Control (having a Atari 2600). There is nothing he loves more than introducing people to the DR.VR experiences, especially those who’ve never tried VR before. He is especially pleased to be able to work with DR.VR as he says "it really helps people, really helps them with pain, stress and anxiety, it’s amazing."