In response to the mounting challenges facing the NHS and its patients, virtual reality technology has found itself becoming more critical to healthcare than ever before. Now, patients are in a position to be empowered, treated and reassured – all through a VR headset.
Long thought of as simply a recreational tool, VR headsets are now finding their way into the healthcare sector, as the beleaguered NHS embraces technological. Most importantly, VR has the ability to create bespoke solutions to specific patient needs, easing waiting times, providing greater care for mental health conditions, and generally empowering members of the public to be able to take better care of themselves independently.
Care at Home
“42% of patients are discouraged from visiting the doctors due to waiting times. Plextek” The Future of Connected Home Health
One of the most prolific difficulties facing the NHS over the last decade has been the lack of hospital beds, and the long waiting times as a result. Outside of hospital wards, GPs remain in high demand, but lack the funding and resources to adequately treat every individual within the community, leading to long waits for appointments and overall dissatisfaction.
How, then, can VR solve this problem? A current NHS campaign, Choose Well, aims to direct patients towards self-care and the pharmacy for mild ailments, over visiting their GP or A&E. One approach to VR is taking a similar tact, but on a much bigger scale by tackling the challenges of treating patients with long term conditions.
Director of Medical at Plextek, Collette Johnson, notes that bringing VR into the connected home can make treatment accessible to patients 24/7 – without ever needing to leave the house. For individuals who require regular appointments or assistance, this is a positive time saver, and gives them the independence to care for themselves.
Not only does it help patients to feel more liberated, but it also reduces the number of visits to hospitals and GPs, helping to relieve some of the pressure the NHS is facing. In particular, sufferers of mental health conditions will benefit greatly.
Mental Health Conditions
“I think this is a glimpse into the future of mental healthcare. There is a revolution underway in virtual reality with many headsets becoming available. As these become more affordable we will see them used not just in clinical settings, but in people’s homes.”
Professor Daniel Freeman, Oxford University via BBC
Technology needs to remain relevant and be adapted to help people live with and overcome debilitating mental health issues. One such condition which can be difficult for patients to overcome is paranoia. Addressing this, the University of Oxford undertook research into the benefits of VR on treating paranoia. What they found was that paranoia “melts away” when individuals dropped their defences and stood eye-to-eye with virtual avatars. In a real situation, this would be difficult to accomplish, as natural defensive behaviours would make real individuals unapproachable for paranoid patients.
It’s not just paranoia that can benefit from VR technology, either. Patients suffering from phobias can also employ VR to help resolve their condition, without paying for expensive treatments or seeing a GP. By creating a virtual scenario where a phobia can be more easily managed, patients can undertake a virtual exposure therapy. Here, they’ll witness their phobias and be able to confront them, without ever being in actual harm. VR provides a greater sense of control over the situation, allowing for an accelerated recovery.
Finally, there are instances of VR helping to treat depression. Chris Brewin, professor of clinical psychology at University College London, undertook research with 15 individuals being treated for depression by the NHS. Using VR, the individuals were embodied by adult avatars, and then tasked with comforting a crying child. The virtual reality then saw them swap places with the crying child, hearing their own comforting phrases spoken back to them. This swapping of perspectives is far from possible in a normal environment, and as such demonstrates how VR can introduce more unusual methods of treatment.
All mental health conditions have the potential to limit a person’s enjoyment of life. Virtual reality technology is giving patients back a sense of control over their lives and happiness, delivering them from their fears and depression in a safe environment. For these patients, this is a type of empowerment whose value shouldn’t be underestimated.
Technology Shouldering the Burden
With the NHS facing budget difficulties, and patients unsure what to do with themselves, there’s a clear driver for VR and other technologies to shoulder some of the burden. Empowering patients to live better lives, whilst helping the NHS to work more efficiently, is a more than a worthy use of an innovative technology.
Having worked with healthcare firms in developing bespoke software solutions, the team at Kaleida have been able to see first-hand how technology is being adapted to help patients, and the application of VR is likely to pave the way for a number of exciting and efficient new solutions.
Kaleida is a bespoke software development house based in the North West, with experience in delivering bespoke software solutions to clients in healthcare, construction and more. Got any questions? Feel free to get in touch – our team will be happy to help.