Hospice and palliative care providers are increasingly using virtual reality (VR) to help reduce pain, anxiety and feelings of fear and isolation in patients with chronic conditions. More hospices have incorporated VR into patient care, with the pandemic driving innovative uses for technology. The Elizabeth Hospice began to use VR to reach isolated patients during COVID-19, with plans to continue beyond the pandemic.
California-based The Elizabeth Hospice partnered with MyndVR to launch a VR program to aid in symptom management and to help patients cope with social isolation, which became more critical and challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Initially, we were looking for a way to provide additional outreach to isolated patients due to COVID-19,” said Laury Bliss, chief strategy officer at The Elizabeth Hospice. “After receiving such positive feedback from our patients and families, we didn’t hesitate to continue this experience. Our skilled nursing facilities and assisted living communities have also valued this offering and requested that we continue.”
Serving the San Diego and Southwest Riverside counties, the hospice, palliative care and grief support provider started offering patients virtual reality experiences as a way to continue connecting with patients and as the outbreak forced these vulnerable populations into isolation. Using these systems, patients can explore travel destinations, visit art galleries and other landmarks or swim with dolphins without leaving home.
Adults 65 and older represented 14.8% of the San Diego county population in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, making up the same percentage in Southwest Riverside county.
“We find that hospice and palliative care patients benefit from diverting their attention. These immersive experiences increase happiness and reduce social isolation for older adults,” said Bliss. “They feel more relaxed and rate their well-being higher after engaging in virtual reality sessions.”
The decision to launch the program followed studies that found that virtual reality could be effective in helping to reduce pain, fear, and anxiety in adults suffering from chronic conditions, according to a 2019 report from the Journal of Pain Research.
Through VR technology patients can re-experience fond memories, visit new places or experience activities such as sky-diving, visiting national parks, zoos or the ocean, among others. Through iPads, families are able to share in the virtual reality experience with patients.
“Virtual reality is a powerful tool with great potential for shaping a patient’s experience near the end of life,” said CEO of MyndVR Chris Brickler. “Whether the patient seeks relief from pain, anxiety, other symptoms or wishes to visit a long-sought destination or familiar locale, MyndVR’s technology brings patients outside the physical limitations of their bodies to give them a unique and uplifting experience they may have never thought possible at that point in their lives.”
Social workers, spiritual counselors and volunteers are trained to demonstrate and oversee the virtual reality sessions. The non-profit hospice received donations to offer these services at no cost to patients and families.
As new VR emerging as technology innovations evolve, more hospices are incorporating this technology into pain management and patient care. Hospice Savannah began the VR for Good project last year in collaboration with the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), reporting positive impacts on patients using the technology for physical and emotional therapy.
“We’ve found that even patients who aren’t verbal because of their illness are enthusiastic about MyndVR,” Bliss told Hospice News. “We customize their care, focusing not on the illness, but on experiences that bring meaning and joy to a person’s life.”