How can we use VR in health and care settings?

Conversation starter: Griselda Goldsborough (York Teaching Hospital)

Griselda’s experience of working with teams who work in end of life care,  made her wonder if there was any way virtual reality (VR) could be used to revisit old favourite places or memories. Are there any other ways we can use VR creatively in health and care settings? 

The answer seemed to be a resounding “yes!” particularly from two members of the group who work in UX for Health Education England.  They have experience of commissioning VR projects in healthcare settings. 

Their first example was working with a trust in Torbay to rehabilitate a patient who was partially paralysed. He was a keen cyclist, so the team created a film of one of his routes, then using VR and a specially adapted bike, the patient could ‘cycle’ along his normal route using just his hands. The project was a success. 

With regards to practitioners, Nick Perez was mentioned, a former cameraman doing great work in VR. However it should be noted that his availability is currently limited to one day a week due to other projects. 

Griselda asked how long these projects usually take to complete? We learned that it really depends what the scope is. Complex projects can take some time. For example, a VR experience that allows you to approach a road traffic accident as various different emergency services, respond, have conversations etc requires the creation of multiple perspectives and timelines. It would take much longer than Griselda’s proposed trip to the seaside, for example. 

Discussion turned to other ways we might use VR for training staff. We learned about VR experiences that allow users to go into the homes of elderly people, play out a normal interaction with the patient whilst looking for areas of concern (e.g. empty fridge, lightbulb not replaced). It’s a great way to help people learn how to spot signposts in a more visual, realistic way. 

There is a huge uptake of VR technology and demand is increasing. It’s very tempting to embark on a VR project as it’s such exciting tech. However, we need to assess the value carefully. What are the learning outcomes? Could they be achieved just as well in other ways? Or will the VR technology enable you to achieve even better results? 


2 thoughts on “How can we use VR in health and care settings?”

  1. Like most areas, we need to wait for culture to allow us to feel like its tangible. We also often wait for the military to use it first, which is just how the internet was born. Here is just one link about military VR combat.

    So, its already in use. I have been fortunate enough to help a whole class of SEN students visit an immersive area. They decided to go to London. This visit meant they could actually visit London. They had been prepared by the subway scene and the noise. The staff planning the trip tried to enjoy it but were busy taking notes to see who needed ear defenders and who was not reacting positively. Some members were stood back. Were they the ones who you would loose on the trip?

    I think the tech is already there. Like with social media and other digital developments, tendering goes out to hardware and installation. There is little thought to knowledge and experience given over time to users and staff too.

    VR could be used purely as a scene drop to allow people to calm down and take them somewhere else. They could in future do a full VR phone call to loved ones across the world. VR could help them to cognitively feel calm because they are just watching something they love. This on its own could get their heart rate down.

    Using heart rate as an example, there are also interactive scenes that could mean people need to follow. Google and Apple already offer these VR elements for free. They could also play a game that keeps them thinking of the one thing whilst doctors watch and observe without fear.

    There is currently a huge move in the VR world because you don’t need wires anymore. Budgets holders probably don’t know this. The rise of Oculus Quest means now wires. The only drawback is battery life. There is also no need to hand devices. A new update with Oculus Quest means it can identify your hands as the tool to interact with the environment.

    The VR world has many divisions. There is one growing section that uses Google Tilt brush. Finding an experienced use in this area and convincing them to get qualified in therapy work would create a whole new job. The current art therapy is very reliant on traditional tools. Having a digital or VR art therapist is a possible role in the future. This niche does assume other roles before it, like a plain old therapist. It’s possible to also have doctors explain a patients problem in using VR too. This method is something that would develop alongside training methods. This, in turn, would lead training doctors towards the need for gamification of training. For example who can dissect an organ the fastest with the most accuracy.

    I think VR has a place, it just depends on your target audience. The real issue isn’t the technology. It’s not having the digital consultants on your doorstep to help public services decide what’s best. Public services need to hold out all variable areas where VR could be applied and pick a few to work on. The cost doesn’t need to be expensive. Having a play with tech is fun and productive.

    Apologies for the essay and thanks if you read it to the end.

  2. VR is a great tool to support simulation. It allows an immersive experience for the user. An experience where they can choose where to focus and where they feel part of the scenario. Using 360 video means VR is not time consuming or expensive. It can be user created content. @virti has a great set of scaleable solutions.

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