Virtual reality could be the answer to help sick kids prepare for scary medical procedures, not anxiety medication.
Starship children’s hospital is working to help ease the nerves of child patients with technology through the development of a new virtual reality (VR) system.
Staples VR, an Auckland-based augmented and virtual reality software company, designed the technology to help children and their families prepare for their time in hospital through virtual preparation.
A spokesman for the ADHB said the technology had been given the “green light” to take the next step toward a clinical trial phase at Starship hospital.
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Through a headset, a robot guides sick children through procedures such as radiation therapy, theatre (from pre-operation to recovery), MRI, CT, and X-Ray.
The child is introduced to doctors, clinical equipment and machines and even gets to hear the same sounds that they would on the day they undertake the procedure. The robot goes through the procedure first so the child can watch, and then they are encouraged to do it themselves.
Hospital staff could then use the patient’s reactions to the VR game to check their anxiety and preparedness.
The child’s reactions and ability to follow instructions such as “stay still” or “hold your breath” would be assessed by clinical teams to determine the need for sedation or general anaesthetic during the real procedure.
The aim is to improve the overall hospital experience for young patients, reducing the need for medication to manage anxiety.
Clinical director for ADHB’s Starship Radiology, Dr Sally Vogel, said that while it was still early days, the VR experience was “full of promise.”
“It holds several possibilities, including avoiding some general anaesthesia or sedation.”
The headsets also allow patients and their families to be more involved in their own care, Vogel said.
“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.
“If the trial we hope to run goes well, we’ll have the clinical evidence showing children will be more relaxed for their procedures.”
Patients and their families would have been better informed by experiencing the surroundings in virtual reality prior to the procedure, Vogel said.
If children were calmer they would be better able to co-operate the first time with less sedation and fewer general anaesthetics required – which would be better for children’s health.
Vogel said they also hoped the VR system would allow better use of general anaesthetic in procedures where it was an “absolute requirement”.
By measuring the distance between objects – a process called photogrammetry – in key procedure rooms at Starship and Auckland City hospitals, Staples VR have created five realistic virtual reality experiences.
Aleisha Staples, a VR producer for Staples Productions, said the rooms the child sees in the VR headset are exactly the same rooms in the hospital.
“They’re calmer, because they’ve been there before,” when it comes to the real deal, she said.
Only the robots are animated and put into the real world – everything else the child sees is exactly as it would be during their procedure, Staples said, right down to the stickers that cover the MRI machine.
Game developer for Staples VR, Krystal Thompson, said they were given access to areas of the hospital that are rarely captured to ensure the details were right.
“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.”
The virtual reality rooms would be viewed through an HTC Vive headset for non-acute patients, and a Samsung Gear set for acute patients.