Tidewell Hospice Rolls Out Large-Scale Virtual Reality Program

Florida-based Tidewell Hospice has initiated a virtual reality program to aid in symptom management as well as help patients cope with social isolation, which has become even more critical and challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

An increasing number of hospice providers are incorporating virtual reality technology into patient care to help reduce pain, anxiety and feelings of isolation. A recent study found that virtual reality could potentially help reduce pain in adults suffering with chronic conditions.

Tidewell partnered with technology company Rendever to launch the program, which was financed through donor dollars from Lakewood Ranch Community Fund and the J. Milton & Nellie E. Hoffa Memorial Foundation. Tidewell cares for about 1,200 patients daily throughout four Florida counties.

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“Several years ago we started conversations around ways we could enhance the patient experience. We already do music therapy and art therapy and massage and Reiki and other services,” Debbie Mason, president of the Tidewell Foundation, told Hospice News. “We know when patients can connect with family that pleasure reduces pain and loneliness and depression, and for a lot of patients in our care their families are a long way away and don’t have the time or often the financial resources to come back and visit with them. So we started talking about how technology can augment that,”

The foundation is Tidewell’s philanthropic arm.

The equipment is in use within Tidewell’s hospice houses, inpatient units in contracted hospitals, and units are available for use in assisted living, nursing homes and patient residences. Tidewell acquired 24 kits that include virtual reality headsets and tablets.

Patients can use the systems to return virtually to their former homes or neighborhoods, as well as “bucket list” experiences that simulate activities like swimming with dolphins, visiting the International Space Station or visiting a foreign country or landmark. The application has an integration with Google Street View that enables them to create experiences that bring patients back to locations from their pasts or places they would like to visit.

The system is designed to be no more difficult to operate than a cell phone. Patients and families receive education on how to use the technology when they begin receiving the service. Staff also receive training on how the equipment and software functions.

“We built this platform with senior living in mind. User experience and ease of use was the most important thing for us. Clients go through a two-hour onboarding process in which we teach them the ins and outs of the platform,” said Rendever CEO Kyle Rand. “For the providers themselves, we add a tool to our onboarding session, and they have a dashboard in which they’re able to go in and they have a full training curriculum.”

Though the project was conceived at least two years in advance of the COVID-19 outbreak, the pandemic has added new urgency to mitigating the effects of social isolation on hospice patients, seniors, and the seriously ill. The need to quarantine and social distance has limited families’ ability to visit ill loved ones, and visitors in most cases were barred from nursing homes and hospitals, which took the brunt of the pandemic among health care settings.

“The pandemic heightened a sense of isolation. Even if you were in the same town, you couldn’t get in to be with your family member. A lot of people were isolated and locked in, be it in their own home or in their nursing home or wherever they were,” Mason said. “The pandemic definitely just closed people off from contact with friends, neighbors, loved ones.

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