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Wakayama Medical University develops VR-based program with images of home to alleviate patients' psychological pain ― Interactivity a challenge for the future


A joint project team led by the Palliative Care Center/Oncology Center, and including the School of Medicine, the School of Health and Nursing Science, and the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Wakayama Medical University announced that it had found that provision of palliative care programs applying ICT to cancer patients had alleviated the daily pain of their hospitalization. Using augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR) technology, the system provides a virtual reality environment in which patients are transported to their homes, workplaces, and other environments that were a part of their daily routine prior to hospitalization, where they can have real-time conversations with their family and friends. After offering the VR program, they had interviews with their hospitalized patients to verify its efficiency. The program is expected to become widespread as a tool of medical care. This achievement was published in the 7 August 2023 issue of Palliative Medicine Reports, an international academic journal.

Explanation of operation of the VR equipment at Wakayama Medical University (Left) Associate Professor Yoshi Tsukiyama, (Center) Chief Nurse Tomoyo Mukai, (Right)
Professor Hiroki Yamaue.
Provided by Wakayama Medical University

Due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, hospitalized patients were prohibited from seeing their families and as a result these ties were weakened. There was an urgent need to balance measures to restrict visitation to reduce the risk of infection with care that values the patient-family connection.

In the palliative care program provided as part of this project, the families of the patients were asked to use a 3D camera to record videos of their home and other places that the patients wanted to visit. The recorded videos were then watched by the patients using VR goggles. The patients and their families spent their time watching the recorded video at the same time and talking to each other. Through this, the program sought to strengthen patient-family bonds.

At the end of the program, the patients were interviewed about the 'alleviation of the psychological pain that they experienced during their hospitalization.' to evaluate the usability and practicality of the program.

As a result, the following four clusters were extracted:

  • 1. 'Relief from the pain of hospitalization by feeling safe and secure with family members nearby,'
  • 2. 'Using VR to regain daily life,'
  • 3. 'Immersive feeling of being in the same space as family,' and
  • 4. 'Loneliness due to the realistic feeling of separation from the family through VR experience.'

Additionally, it was revealed that the psychological pain the patients experienced during hospitalization was mitigated.

In this project, the recorded video was used for the VR experience. As a results, another problem arose: any interactive communication between patients and families was not possible. Further, the group identified additional challenges: the use of a compact remote-control robot that mimics the patient so as to communicate with the family at home in real time as well as the development of a 5G environment and other networking issues.

On August 18, they held a press conference where Professor Hiroki Yamaue said, "As the final goal, we are aiming at a digital hospital to provide our services, where nobody needs to visit the hospital from a distant place. We want to offer services in a variety of fields of medical care."

Chief Nurse Tomoyo Mukai added, "As we introduced this program, we were able to mitigate the psychological pain of our patients. So, I am very glad."

Journal Information
Publication: Palliative Medicine Reports
Title: Virtual Reality Images of the Home Are Useful for Patients With Hospital-Based Palliative Care: Prospective Observational Study With Analysis by Text Mining
DOI: 10.1089/pmr.2023.0017

This article has been translated by JST with permission from The Science News Ltd. ( Unauthorized reproduction of the article and photographs is prohibited.

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