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Virtual Reality – Transporting our Patients to Another World

Virtual Reality has become a big talking point in the world of tech over the last few years. With developments happening all the time, it’s difficult to predict where the advancements in VR are ever going to end.

The creation of the VR headset back in 2010 truly revolutionised gaming, movies, and virtual travel. With a headset in your possession there are seemingly limitless opportunities for immersing yourself in the VR experience, with countless applications available for download. Whether you fancy a trip to the beach or something a bit cooler with a snowboarding simulator, to the ever-popular VR chat which allows users to socialise with friends across the globe – there truly is something for everyone.

You don’t even have to own an expensive VR headset to get a taste of the action. If you want to go hands-free without breaking the bank, there are cardboard headsets available where you simply slot your mobile phone in, download a 360 video or find a VR clip on YouTube, and you’re good to go! Like with the usual VR headsets, for best results it’s a good idea to stand up so that you can move your whole body around and properly get into the VR ‘zone’.

Given how incredible the Virtual Reality experience is, perhaps it will come as no surprise that it is regularly used in healthcare settings. From improving mobility to speeding up recovery, VR is beginning to change the patient experience for the better. A study in London demonstrated that 94% of patients who used a VR headset while undergoing surgery felt more relaxed, with 100% saying that the technology improved their overall hospital experience.

The use of VR is also becoming more popular in palliative care settings.

Compton patient Ron was travelling to Mars when we took this photo! He said he immediately felt more relaxed and at ease from using the device.

 

In 2017, St Giles Hospice developed a VR guided meditation app for use with their patients experiencing chronic pain, narrated by none other than Sir David Attenborough. ‘Forest of Serenity’ allows the user to navigate through a relaxing animated forest, complete with wildlife, as they take in the sights and sounds of the setting accompanied by Sir David’s soothing tones. The results were truly astounding. Thanks to being truly immersed in the virtual world, patients were able to forget about their pain – without any medication.

‘Forest of Serenity’ is now widely available for download and is just one of the apps which we have been using at Compton Care with our own patients staying at Compton Hall, for pain management and relaxation. Eileen* is one such person who has benefitted from using the technology on our Inpatient Unit.

Eileen was emotionally very fragile with considerable psychological distress related to her unexpected diagnosis of lung cancer.  She had previously received psychotherapy, social work, nursing, medical and spiritual care input from Compton within the community, and she was experiencing an overwhelming sense of fear and loss.

Although Eileen responded to relaxation, it was difficult to improve and maintain her overall wellbeing. Her disease progressed, her bone pain related to metastases worsened and engaging with psychological support was challenging.  Her constant pain was not responding to interventions as much as the team hoped, and was having a profound impact on her quality of life.

Eileen had elements of total pain exacerbated by anxiety, and a decision was made to admit her to the Inpatient Unit for a period of complex symptom management. During her stay, Eileen engaged with Clare, our Diversional Therapist, taking part in the Living Well Service’s horticulture group and sharing her green fingered talents! Clare was trialling our Virtual Reality headset on the unit and Eileen was offered the opportunity to try it.  As she had been diagnosed with brain metastases during her stay, the headset was tried with caution.

Her response was very positive; she chose an app with a relaxing rippling beach scene and visibly appeared far more relaxed, to the point of actually falling asleep during a session, which, given her previous pain scores, was nothing short of remarkable. Her pain score (10 being worst pain ever) reduced from a 9 to 0. Her wellbeing score increased from 1 to 8 (10 being the highest).

The VR headset is proving to be a big hit with those on the Inpatient Unit, and during our trial period patients found it not only improved their wellbeing but also their symptoms.

It is our intention to purchase a second headset with some donated funds, and we will be working with the ‘Fab Lab’ from Sandwell College (see more on this below) to film a 360 degree video for patients to be able to view our Inpatient Unit in a virtual reality format before they come in, to help alleviate any fears or worries they may have about coming to Compton.

We will also be working with Fab Lab to trial some new virtual experiences with our patients.

It truly is an exciting time to be working in the healthcare sector and we are certainly looking forward to seeing which places VR will take Compton and our patients to next.

We have recently partnered with Sandwell College’s Fab Lab, a digital fabrication laboratory based in West Bromwich. Equipped with 3D printers, laser cutters, virtual reality and artificial intelligence, the state of the art facility is a space for engineering and computing students to interact and work with smart technologies whilst enhancing their skills. This blog has been guided by members of staff who work in the Fab Lab and they are being kind enough to support Compton in ways that we can use virtual reality to enhance the experience of our patients. To find out more about the Fab Lab please contact fablab@sandwell.ac.uk.

* Not the patient’s real name

Speak to Compton in person, call us on 0300 323 0250