Virtual reality has been applied to many areas of healthcare including pain management and mental health. Now, several organizations are exploring whether virtual reality may be used in a meaningful way at the end of life?
Toronto’s Bridgepoint Health has partnered with a local IT consultant, David Parker, to grant virtual reality trips to patients at the end of life. As described in a recent feature on CBC News, patients get to be immersed into virtual reality trips to scenic outdoor environments, from local cityscapes to far-flung destinations such as snorkeling in the Sea of Corsica. They are using mobile virtual reality, where a smartphone is placed into a compact VR headset, requiring little or no external wires. Separately, a hospice in London was recently featured by the BBC. Trinity Hospice partnered with Flix Films to offer virtual reality trips to their patients. One such experience utilized the Google Daydream system to allow a patient with cancer to return to her hometown of Jerusalem. Another UK facility, the Loros Hospice, is also trialing virtual reality trips for their patients. A recent writeup on Loros‘ featured an individual with motor neuron disease getting to visit a popular park through VR. The goal is to improve their patient’s quality of life by getting them outside of the hospice walls through a virtual trip.
As noted by the physician interviewed in the CBC article, there is a marked dearth of literature on the use of virtual reality in palliative and hospice environments. Surprisingly, the most recent publications on this topic are from the 1990s, out of Japan. The aptly-named “Medical Virtual Reality Development Lab” at the National Cancer Center Hospital in Tokyo, Japan, has three publications from the same author on the topic. Of particular interest is the “Virtual reality support system in palliative medicine“, from the Studies of Health Technologies and Informatics in 1997. Here, the authors described a virtual reality headset that was used to alleviate stress amongst patients on a palliative care service. The headset (headmounted display) allowed the patient to watch videos from family and learn more about their cancer diagnosis, and preliminary results noted stress reduction amongst patients. Given the explosion in virtual reality use in healthcare over the last couple of years, it is very likely we will see updated research on its use in palliative care very soon.