The Scope

Video: A six-year-old overcomes the trauma of an injection thanks to a virtual reality distraction

Medical researchers are using virtual reality to treat phobias, PTSD and to even train surgeons.

Tears, anxiety, pain. Going to the doctor to get an injection can mean all this for a child, and sometimes for the hapless parent too. Infants do not often remember the pain from an injection but toddlers and older children very often come to associate visits to doctors with the unpleasant jab. The trauma of childhood injections is so common that websites that dispense with medical or parenting advice all have a column dedicated to how to deal with a child’s fear of needles.

Periodic shots for vaccinations are bad enough but what if a child has haemophilia and needs to be stuck with a needle every few days for blood infusions? Clinicians at an Ohio hospital, who have seen hundreds of paediatric haemophilic patients and their parents struggle through the experience, are now witnessing a welcome change. All that is needed was a little virtual reality.

Haemophilic children at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus have been enrolled in a pilot study that is testing how a virtual reality game can keep patients engaged while they receive their shots or transfusions. The game called Voxel Bay has been specifically created for children and has been developed by the hospital’s haemophilia team and students from the Ohio State University's Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design.

Here is six-year-old Brady Bowman using the virtual reality headset that has been designed to be disposable and lightweight to enter Voxel Bay’s immersive environment of penguins, pirates and hermit crabs. Most importantly, the headset is hands-free to enable the necessary medical procedure.

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There has been a lot of hype about virtual reality for many years but until recently, real life applications of virtual worlds have been elusive. But now companies life Google and Facebook are investing heavily in virtual reality. Google has a simple cardboard headset called Google Cardboard that allows 360 video and very simple virtual reality and now has come up with the more advanced Daydream. Facebook bought Oculus VR , the company that created the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, in 2014.

While virtual reality is raising the bar in gaming and move making, medical researchers are making use of the investment and interest in the technology to look look at wider applications medicine resulting in a sudden surge in medical virtual reality application – at least in experimental stages. The University of Southern California has a Medical Virtual Reality group that studies and develops virtual reality simulations to be used in psychology, medicine, neuroscience and physical and occupational therapy. The group has a special on virtual reality for mental heath therapy, motor and cognitive skill rehabilitation and clinical skill training. For example, the group has developed virtual patients for rookie doctors and clinicians to practice and improve their skills without the risk of harming a human being in need of medical help. They are also using virtual reality to help treat soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

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Medical researchers are working on virtual reality simulations to treat phobias like a fear of heights or a fear of spiders. Others are developing virtual reality tools that can help patients, especially children, too get used to hospital environments even before they are admitted so that they are not intimidated by being in a hospital. Software developers in Canada are also creating interactive virtual spaces to help surgeons train for complex operations. The technology allows a surgeon to be in a virtual operating room and connects the surgeon’s real hands to the virtual reality version of the doctor so that the doctor can actually run through the movements of an entire surgery. Take a look at Mashable News’ report on the experiment.

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Snippets of wisdom on the health care industry by Dr. Kevin Lofton

His sessions stressed on the importance of patient centric healthcare.

At the Hospital Leadership Summit 2017, Dr Kevin Lofton, CEO Catholic Health Initiatives, spoke on the need to focus on patient experience, the role of the leader and shared some ideas from the practices of his own hospital chain. Here are some snippets from Dr Lofton’s presentation that will provide some food for thought. The Bringing Health to Life content hub contains his and many other insights and best practices for healthcare delivery.

The two kinds of willing patients

During the summit, a consensus emerged that the health care industry needs to learn customer centricity from other industries. However, the health care industry is unique in several ways and one of the fundamental differences is the nature of its customer. Dr Lofton spoke about how the customer i.e. the patient in the health care industry is different by way of motivation. He reminded the gathering that nobody willingly seeks out a doctor.

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The paradigm shift needed in health care

Dr Lofton emphasised that patient centricity needs to become a part of the very philosophy of a health care facility, a philosophy that drives every action and motivates every employee in the organisation. He described this revaluation of purpose as a paradigm shift. Dr Lofton spoke about how patient centricity starts much before the patient walks into the hospital, that the patient’s tryst with the health care system starts before a visit to the doctor is warranted. In this clip, Dr Lofton provides an example of one such paradigm shift for health care providers.

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At the 2017 Hospital Leadership Summit, Dr Lofton shared several such insights from his experience in the US health care system. He emphasised especially on the need of empathy alongside clinical skill among health care providers.

For more insights and best practices for healthcare delivery, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.