VR can aid seniors and chronic disease patients, but don’t overhype its capabilities

Frank
July 21, 2018
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virtual reality, VR, healthcare VR, patient

The hype around virtual reality hasn’t seemed to die down. Stakeholders in the healthcare realm are leveraging the technology for a variety of purposes, as outlined by three panelists at the Connected Health Conference in Boston this week.

Dr. Sonya Kim founded One Caring Team with an eye toward improving the quality of life of and preventing loneliness among senior citizens in America. In addition to having “caring listeners” call elderly individuals, One Caring Team’s Aloha VR program reduces seniors’ anxiety by allowing them to escape to other environments.

The company began using the VR in group therapy sessions for geriatric patients. As One Caring Team has grown, it’s been able to leave certain VR headsets at care units, allowing patients to use the technology outside the group setting. While some seniors haven’t tried VR, others are using it twice or three times per day.

“They absolutely love it,” Kim, who also serves as CEO of the company, said. “‘Wow, Dr. Kim, it’s worth living again.’ These are the things that come out of our seniors’ mouths in assisted living and memory care,” Kim said.

Through the Aloha VR program, One Caring Team has developed over 150 unique content videos. It also has more than 200,000 recordings of live, unique patient encounters with the VR technology.

Amanda Greene, a patient with lupus, is also making use of VR — nearly on a daily basis. Also known as “LA Lupus Lady,” she has become a healthcare activist and patient advocate.

Using virtual reality allows her to explore new places like Paris and Puerto Rico. But it also helps with pain relief.

Greene said VR presents an alternate option for someone like her, who is allergic to opioids. “My doctors just want to give me opioids and make me a zombie … why can’t I find alternatives?” she said.

But Dr. Brennan Spiegel, director of health services research at Cedars-Sinai Health System, warned of the downsides of using virtual reality in the healthcare setting.

He regularly prescribes VR to patients at Cedars-Sinai, which utilizes visualizations developed by AppliedVR, a startup based in Los Angeles.

Though Spiegel once witnessed how VR was used to aid a patient suffering a panic attack, he also shared a story of VR triggering a panic attack in a patient.

The woman was experiencing recurrent abdominal pain, so Spiegel and his team gave her a VR headset in an attempt to ease her discomfort. The VR experience was a game called “Pain Reliever,” through which users throw balls at stuffed bears. It often serves as a way to distract the patient from his or her pain. But within a minute of beginning the game, the female patient tore the headset off and began crying and hyperventilating. As it turns out, she had PTSD due to previous emotional and sexual abuse. Any thought of violence initiated a panic attack.

The team gave the woman, who happened to be an actress, a different VR experience: Cirque du Soleil. She started crying tears of joy, Spiegel said.

He also cautioned against overhyping VR, especially in the oncology space.

The first patient Spiegel treated with VR was a 45-year-old lung cancer patient. He entered her hospital room with a headset, promising of the beautiful sights she could see. She looked at him as though he were crazy and turned down using the technology. Spiegel said he left the room feeling “almost ashamed of myself for thinking that I could overpromise something for somebody with end stage cancer who died two days later.”

“These promises of disrupting the world of medicine through technology are a bunch of bullshit. We hear too much of that around here,” Spiegel said. “I realized, particularly with cancer, we have to be very, very careful about not overpromising and underdelivering what we can achieve with something like virtual reality.”

Photo: KatarzynaBialasiewicz, Getty Images

Learn about how well executives are dealing with value-based care (VBC) models, and what technologies they’re using to achieve their goals.

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Frank’s source: https://medcitynews.com/2017/10/virtual-reality-patients/

 

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