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Bringing virtual worlds to palliative patients

Palliative Care Unit patient Julie taking a trip to Scotland with virtual reality.









A new palliative care program at Barwon Health is utilising virtual reality (VR) technology as a form of diversion therapy that also allows patients to encounter immersive experiences.

Palliative Care Unit volunteer co-ordinator Jen Walsh said staff and volunteers had trialled VR headsets in a partnership with the Geelong Regional Library, and patients were now able to enjoy the experiences.

“There are so many implications for people in healthcare and for us in palliative care,” she said.

“We have completely fallen for what this technology can do, so we’ve encouraged our volunteers to get a sense of what it’s like to help us roll it out for use with patients.”

Benefits of the ‘immersive experience’

Palliative care nurse Mel Davies said patients had been quick to adapt to the technology, especially with Barwon Health’s DentecX headset, which is designed for clinical settings.

“This version offers a more immersive experience and can be operated from a phone or laptop, so the patient only has to sit there and the scenery moves around them to reduce motion sickness,” she said.

“Virtual reality has been used in America, particular in paediatric burn patients as a diversion tool for wound dressing, but we are also developing a study around the effects it has on people, whether it can reduce feelings of breathlessness, nausea or pain.”

Mel said the technology had obvious benefits in giving the patients a unique experience.

“We know it can really transport people to another place and make them happy,” she said.

“In healthcare settings, we know it can reduce distress from either emotional or physical pain and also help those palliative care patients who have a lot of feelings of isolation, particularly with the current pandemic restrictions.

“One patient has Scottish heritage and she went to virtual Scotland using Google Maps and was amazed by how real it felt.

“She said she felt so lucky and her body language in the armchair was so relaxed, like she was literally in another place.”

The device’s library currently has 18 immersive options, including city tours, wildlife and space experiences.


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