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A figment of the (optimistic) imagination? The potential use of Virtual Reality within Jersey Hospice Care

Even for those of us who are not self-confessed ‘Techy’s’, it is pretty clear that the modern world has some really rather exciting innovations, improving our lives through communication, entertainment, and productivity. One such product sparking the imaginations of us ‘geeks’ is Virtual Reality (VR). As you all probably know, VR devices have the ability to transport us to faraway lands or old stomping groups, immerse ourselves in a multitude of experiences, take us back to once loved hobbies or, using a 360-degree camera, allow us to be present at family events such as parties, weddings or sporting events (once they start up again).
The use of VR in health care is gathering pace and the VR train is building up a head of steam with new research emerging suggesting it could offer benefits to patients in several ways, namely reducing anxiety, reducing pain, aiding relaxation and mindfulness as well as adding to entertainment options in health care settings. Although the effects of VR have been well documented in the contemporary literature, more research is needed particularly in relation to the impact on those nearing the end of their life.
The potential for positive experiences and health care benefits for patients and their families using hospice services definitely invites further investigation and this has become a real interest of mine. One of the ‘consequences’ of the current Covid-19 challenge has been the delays in some staff’s academic journeys. This has meant that there has been a pause in the development and implementation of future innovations with one such example being the VR study I was planning to undertake. My hope of exploring the impact of a VR relaxation programme on the experience of anxiety and stress is in a bit of a holding pattern!
I had planned to look at both the effects of using VR on lived experience, using an anxiety scoring system, and also examining the physiological impact of such an intervention by way of stress measurements using a rather clever device called a ‘Heart Key’ monitor. This little box of tricks measures the amplitude of the participants ECG trace…and from this we can derive their ‘real’ stress levels. As we all start to work towards some business as usual, I am planning to revisit this goal next year!
VR use has also been shown to open up a whole new method for the delivery of education and in the well-being management of staff and so, in the light of physical distancing, it may well be an increasingly familiar methodology for the delivery of training sessions in the future.
Technology is very much a part of our lives now and is becoming more affordable. I’m very excited about the potential benefits such equipment could provide for patients, their families, and staff. But we need to know more first. Therefore, it is my intention to continue the exploration into the world of VR provision…and hopefully, boldly go where no Hospice Care setting has gone before!

Geoff Benning