A new study published in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine looks at the potential of personalised virtual reality (VR) in palliative care, following a feasibility trial with patients at Royal Trinity Hospice. 

The study aimed to explore whether repeated sessions of personalised VR experiences could help alleviate symptoms in palliative care patients.

Between 2018 and 2020, 26 Royal Trinity Hospice patients with a life-limiting condition took part in the trial, which was led by Trinity’s Head of Patient and Family Support, Letizia Perna-Forrest and delivered in partnership with VR specialists Flix Films, who provided pro bono support, expertise and equipment.

The study into this little-researched area concludes that it is feasible to complete repeated VR sessions within a palliative care population and that future research should explore the structure and effectiveness of VR in a full trial.

Royal Trinity Hospice has been making innovative use of VR for several years in partnership with Flix Films. This has included using VR as a resource for hospice patients to enjoy “bucket-list” experiences; by providing immersive learning scenarios for clinical staff; through a myth-busting VR tour that allows patients to view the hospice before visiting and as an engaging fundraising tool.

Letizia Perna-Forrest, Head of Patient and Family Support at Royal Trinity Hospice said:

“Palliative patients and their physical and psychological symptoms are at the heart of our clinical work at Trinity. It was an absolute honour to work on this study and to lay the foundation for future research in this area.

“None of this could have been possible without Flix Films and the patients who took part and who so kindly gave their time. They’ve helped make a difference in the way this technology will be used in the future. It will be exciting to see the possibilities that this rapidly changing technology unlocks as it is adopted more widely in healthcare settings and offers ever more powerful experiences.

“We have seen so many innovative uses of technology in healthcare during the pandemic. We have witnessed the potential of all types of technology to transform the way we deliver care and communicate in healthcare. I hope this is just the beginning of the story for VR in palliative care settings and beyond”

Leon Ancliffe, Managing Director at Flix Films said:

“In 2016 I turned up at the office of Trinity’s Chief Executive Dallas Pounds clutching a pair of plastic VR goggles, a smartphone and a head full of ideas. I have always been passionate about exploring the possibilities of VR in healthcare, an area I feel has been overlooked. Little research and money had gone into VR in healthcare at the time, but I hoped that Flix could make a significant impact and build confidence with VR technology in this sector.

“Dallas was instrumental in breathing life into the project, suggesting a partnership between Flix and Trinity to undertake a full, ethically approved clinical study. The appointment of Letizia Perna-Forrest as a research partner enabled the study to gain pace and we were excited to begin delivering patient experiences.

“The response from patients contributing to the study was overwhelming. Each had a unique reaction to their experience, which was a privilege to witness and demonstrated the importance of the research. We hope that their invaluable feedback can now be used to help inform future VR usage within the sector.

“We are incredibly grateful to all contributors, but particularly the patients, some of whom are sadly no longer with us, whose contribution to the evolution of VR and technology in palliative care is invaluable. We encourage further research into this innovative use of VR, as we feel we have only scratched the surface, but hope to have opened the eyes of others who can continue this important journey with us as Flix VR.”

Read the full study in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine

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