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Virtual reality being used to help distract patients

Virtual reality being used to help distract patients

[Birmingham, UK / Implementation] - Virtual reality is being used at a major British hospital to try and help people deal with pain better by being transported by their imaginations to restful environments.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham′s Human Interface Technologies Team have come up with the idea to help patients at the city′s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

The hospital, Birmingham′s first new acute hospital for 70 years and which prides itself on a purpose-built environment and the “latest technological advances,” is evaluating a system that offers a computerised virtual world, based on the rural beauties of Devon, to comfort some of its patients.

“We are looking at the use of virtual reality in a number of ways, initially around pain management,” confirms Critical Care Registrar Dr Charlotte Small, who is leading the clinical side of the project.

“We are looking to design a purpose-built system so it can be used by patients with even severe injuries,” she added. “Research says viewing nature is relaxing and therapeutic.”

In what is called ‘distraction therapy,′ users of the system can take simulated ‘walks′ along coastal paths or woodland without ever leaving their beds. Two Devon cyber reconstructions have been developed at the University: Virtual Wembury and Virtual Burrator, with the first offering viewers a chance to take a mile-long coastal walk while the latter lets them remotely experience a reservoir in Dartmoor.

Virtual Wembury has a ‘game′ aspect too;, that offers a speedboat element. Researchers are already thinking about how to make the experience even more convincing and immersive with a virtual pedalo extension, which would mean users, could move around the environment just by moving their own legs in their ward beds.

The initial phase of use of what is envisaged as a two-year virtual distraction initiative, an initial trail was carried out over several weeks within the hospital′s burns unit.

The trial, which was set up to compare the effectiveness of a variety of pain relief treatments from mere paracetamol all the way to morphine, found over one in three burns patients experienced moderate or severe pain when their dressings were changed, even when given relief medication. The idea is to see if this technology can enhance that relief and make the change procedure much less of an endurance test for patients, report the partners.

The virtual worlds were initially developed by a team led by Birmingham University′s Professor Bob Stone, who notes, “Previous research suggests that exposing individuals to natural environments, such as rural and coastal settings, can promote stress reduction and reduce post-operative recovery times and the need for pharmaceutical pain relief.

“This project aims to exploit simulated restorative environments to deliver similar benefits to those individuals who are unable to access and experience real natural environments.”

[Related Information]

More information about the University team behind the new system

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