Auckland District Health Board and Staples VR have been developing virtual reality (VR) experiences to reduce child patient anxiety levels.
The technology helps young patients prepare for their hospital visit through virtual preparation experiences in radiation therapy, theatre (pre-operation to recovery), MRI, CT, and X-Ray procedures. The project aims to improve the overall hospital experience for child patients, and reduce the need for medication to manage anxiety, achieving better clinical outcomes.
Auckland DHB’s Clinical Director, Starship Radiology Dr Sally Vogel says: “Some young patients require dozens of procedures and the headsets allow them to explore the surgical or radiology environment with a nurse, ask questions and direct their own learning.
This is early days and we’ll require clinical trials to build an evidence base, but the VR experience is full of promise. It holds several possibilities, including of avoiding some general anaesthesia or sedation and increasing the participation of patients and whanau in their own care.”
The VR experience is a ‘journey’ through a hospital procedure with a robot child who also needs the same procedure done. Together they are introduced to medical professionals, clinical equipment, questions, and sounds they will experience on the day. The child’s reactions, and their ability to follow instructions such as ‘stay still’ and ‘hold your breath’, help the clinical teams determine whether sedation or general anaesthetic will be required during the real procedure. Parents and whānau of patients are also encouraged to go through the VR experience.
Staples VR used the process of photogrammetry to map the key procedure rooms at Starship and Auckland City hospitals into five photorealistic virtual reality experiences. These are viewed through an HTC Vive headset for non-acute patients, and a Samsung Gear set for acute patients.
Staples VR game developer, Krystal Thompson, says: “We were given access to areas that are rarely captured, and these spaces are special and unique to Starship and Auckland City hospitals,” “Having cinematographers, game developers and hospital staff on set together capturing the room, effectively allowed us to not only re-create the room, but also we had the ability to include the finer sentimental details, like posters on the walls and toys on the shelves.”
James Edgar, director of information management strategy at Auckland DHB, says: "Virtual Reality technologies allow anyone, to be anywhere, with anything, at any time. Yesterday the idea of having a linear accelerator that children could practice in was unfathomable in public health services, but tomorrow that will be reality… it's truly amazing."
Staples VR director, Aliesha Staples, says “I’m excited to be a part of a project that links the latest VR technology with practical medical application, and that ultimately helps children cope better with their treatment.
The project transitions from product development to implementation in March 2017.
Staples would like to make special acknowledgement to HP and Vodafone who have partnered on the project, sourcing the VR hardware powering the experiences.
Staples operates out of the AR/VR Garage – a collaborative R&D facility established by the region’s economic growth agency Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) to fuel talent, capabilities and innovation in the creative tech sector.
Dean Butchers, ATEED General Manager Business Attraction & Investment, says: “ATEED is delighted to see Staples VR creating this life-changing product for ill children, which is another example of how the company is creating virtual experiences which have tremendous social value.
“Staples VR’s recent successes are a perfect example of why ATEED is supporting this growing industry through its investment in the AR/VR Garage on behalf of council.”