Virtual reality helping palliative care patients

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NEW ZEALAND – A PROJECT pursuing better health outcomes for palliative care patients using virtual reality (VR) technology is an exciting prospect, according to Hawke’s Bay District Health Board.

The board discussed future treatment options at their November 2 meeting where recent research from the DHB and Cranford Hospice in Hastings was presented.

Katy Durbin, clinical nurse specialist from Cranford Hospice saw a space for technology in palliative healthcare. She was confident that using VR experiences could help address mental, emotional and whanau needs of patients, essentially giving care to the entire being of a person.

“We’re really keen to explore new ideas and approaches for our whanau. We had an ex-jockey, who had a lifelong passion for horses, as an inpatient at the hospice. He was coming to the end of his life and was deeply sad.

“We had some contacts who had a retired race horse, so we brought the race horse into our garden so he could spend time with our patient.

“It didn’t work for just him, it worked for other patients in the unit as well.

So they all came out and it really reflected on how it’s not just about the physical care, it’s about the whole care of that patient. We’re really keen to try stuff outside the box. We feel that this initiative ties in really well to our philosophies and Maori health te whare tapa wha framework (A model of the four dimensions of wellbeing developed by Sir Mason Durie in 1984 to provide a Maori perspective on health).” Matthew Murray from the digital enablement team at the DHB spoke about the inception of the virtual reality idea and then consequent experiments in clinical settings.

“We’ve been experimenting with this for a while with devices like headsets in a hospital setting and trying to find a right approach for it.

“During some of our experimentation, a doctor observed that one of their patient’s dying wish was to see her garden one last time. Sadly she wouldn’t be able to.

And that got us thinking, wouldn’t it be cool, if we could bring the garden to them through a virtual reality experience.

“So that’s one of the ideas that we’ve been trying to play around with and it’s an opportunity to utilise innovative solutions for our whanau and community.

The challenges in healthcare are immense and it is critical that we use the resources that we have got.

“We hatched this plan during lockdown with Cranford, partnered with an EIT research student and now Spark Health.” Currently, users will need a headset to participate, two remote controllers, and an iPad allows family members to see what patients are viewing through their headsets. While the project is still in its infancy, Mr Murray said that he thought within the next five to 10 years, virtual reality would be a core component of healthcare.

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An original article from Wairoa Star, republished with permission.

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