Analysis: Virtual reality set to transform hospital experiences for patients
Photo credit - Justin Rosenberg_Starlight Childrens Foundation

Analysis: Virtual reality set to transform hospital experiences for patients

Virtual reality could be the key to alleviating patients’ anxiety, boredom, and isolation in healthcare settings. As Jessica Twentyman reports, the technology won’t only benefit children.

Hardware manufacturer Lenovo and mobile/IoT device management specialist SOTI have teamed up to help the Starlight Children’s Foundation provide hospitalised children with virtual reality (VR) experiences.

For some 35 years, the Foundation has brought “moments of comfort and joy” to more than 60 million kids facing critical, chronic, or terminal illnesses in the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK. Its work is wide-ranging: it organises visits by entertainers and sports stars, for example, and provides young patients with fun hospital gowns that transform them into astronauts, princesses, and cowboys.

Inevitably, it has introduced more tech-related diversions over the years, too, such as mobile entertainment units that provide access to movies and games.

The ‘Starlight Xperience’ VR concept takes the idea of distracting sick kids from the pain, fear, stress, and loneliness of treatment, by transporting them on virtual journeys away from their hospital beds to exotic locations and galaxies far, far away.

Entertain, educate, inspire

Starlight Xperience runs on the Lenovo Mirage Solo headset and Google’s Daydream VR platform and comes with over 20 pre-loaded VR experiences.

SOTI’s technology, meanwhile, gives hospital IT admins the ability to deploy and manage the Mirage Solo headsets to entertain, educate, and inspire their young patients. As with all Starlight’s programmes, Starlight Xperience will be provided to hospitals at zero cost.

“We are very excited to work with Lenovo and the Starlight Project,” said Larry Klimczyk, vice president of strategic alliances at SOTI, which claims to have been the first enterprise mobile management (EMM) solution to introduce management of smart glasses and smart watches. “Our latest integration with the Lenovo Mirage Solo will bring countless innovations to the healthcare and education sectors.”

In other words, the scope of this partnership goes beyond the work with Starlight, which works with over 800 hospitals caring for kids in the US. Lenovo and SOTI will be able to roll out Mirage Solos in other settings as well, but for now, they’re hopeful that Starlight Xperience will become “the go-to AR/VR solution for pediatric care providers.”

Other headsets, other patients

While many VR technology companies are targeting doctors, with applications primarily focused on training them, Lenovo isn’t the only VR headset provider setting its sights on alleviating patient boredom or distress.

Healthcare tech company VRHealth recently announced it was working with Facebook-owned Oculus to provide VR experiences to patients in a variety of situations, from women in labour to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

According to VRHealth CEO Eran Orr, “Virtual reality has the power to ease the pain of chemotherapy treatment, create a seamless environment for physical therapy exercises and train children with ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] to focus their attention.”

“It used to be that when people thought of virtual reality, entertainment and games were the first applications that came to mind, but we see that applying the effects of VR to the healthcare industry has the potential to improve many lives and aid doctors in providing personalised and comfortable experiences for their patients.”

In the UK, meanwhile, Oxford University spin-out Oxford VR has attracted £3.2 million in funding to commercialise VR-based mental health treatments.

As Barnaby Perks, Oxford VR CEO explained, “Our focus is on developing clinically validated, cost-effective, user-centred treatments for clinical conditions with significant impacts on patients, the health system. and the wider economy. That means targeting complex conditions such as psychosis and social anxiety.”

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Oxford VR’s first product, an automated VR treatment for height phobia, was tested this year in a large, randomised, controlled trial, with the results gaining global acclaim when published in the Lancet Psychiatry journal. The treatment is now being used in selected NHS clinics.