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How VR Can Improve Chemotherapy Patient Programs

Patients can explore new worlds away from the hospital thanks to VR.

VR is being put to use at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse with the help of Samsung Australia and Start VR. Chemotherapy patients at the Australian not-for-profit cancer treatment center, many of whom are no longer physically able to travel, now have the chance to go to a far-off, exotic destination through the use of a Gear VR headset.

The project, spearheaded by Martin Taylor of Start VR, was designed to help alleviate stress for patients going through the physically and emotionally grueling process of chemotherapy treatment. As a form of “distraction therapy,” patients were given a Samsung Gear VR headset and plenty of experiences to choose from, including skydiving, a boat ride through Sydney Harbour, petting koalas inside of a zoo, and going for a snorkel in the sparkling blue sea.

The VR collaboration was a no-brainer for Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, known internationally for being at the cutting edge of research and innovation in their field. “Allowing patients to escape the experience of chemotherapy gives them a bit of space to forget what’s going on. In settings such as before surgery, patients are even more anxious. This gives them a distraction and allows them to keep their spirits up. Wellness isn’t just about the physical side of things, it’s also about mental wellbeing,” said Chris O’Brien’s therapy director Michael Marthick.

“Exploring the application of VR in healthcare, highlights an exciting pathway for this burgeoning medium and we are proud to leverage what we are learning to continually push boundaries in VR content creation,” said Start VR’s Head of Content Martin Taylor about VR’s potential usage in healthcare environments in the future. “We wanted to determine if VR had the potential to change people’s outlook on their current environment and we felt that a healthcare setting, where people sit and wait for periods of time, worried about unknown outcomes would be the right place to start. Though after months of theory and planning, the true reward was meeting these incredible patients and seeing them experience instant joy through the power of VR.”

From a practical standpoint; the use of VR for distraction therapy is a homerun—the mobile headsets are easy to transport and don’t require a prescription. However, the real success of the project depended on the patients’ reactions—which turned out to be a grand slam.

“To be able to sit there and look at something like that and get a taste of another culture or another place, that’s amazing. I think that’s a gift, really,” said one of the patients. The patients’ experience in the headsets, as well as personal anecdotes and information about the project, were all documented in a video created by the collaboration team that can be viewed below.

Though further, wider distribution isn’t currently in the works, based on the success of the Lifehouse Trial, it’s probably safe to say that in the not-so-distant future, VR will be used to bring smiles and relief to people who deserve it most.

About the Scout

Presley West

Emory University student, VRScout Intern, Storyteller, and Amateur Dog Walker.

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