Virtual Medicine: Best Practices in Medical Virtual Reality

On March 28th I was lucky enough to be able to attend a truly thought-provoking, enlightening and inspiring conference, on behalf of the Hospices of Hope team, that highlighted how Virtual Reality (VR) is being used to treat patients with life-limiting conditions, across the world.  


Held at the Centre for Outcomes Research and Education at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, the Virtual Medicine: Best Practices in Medical Virtual Reality conference brought together medical professionals and tech industry specialists from around the world to discuss the impact VR is having on healthcare and medical training.

Virtual Medicine is probably the first event of its kind, a conference focusing on what VR, AR and MR can do and where and how technology will impact the delivery of healthcare. The speakers and the panels are focusing not only on emphasising the obvious: that such technology is cool, spectacular, works but also on pointing out the need for research, figures, integration with the mainstream care systems in place. Everyone agrees the potential is there but it needs to be taken to the next level, how you do it is the key.

Cedars Sinai or LA Children’s Hospital, Stanford Hospital are some of the major institutions investing and incorporating these solutions but there are community-based initiatives, GPs with individual projects, researchers involved in this area. Above all the questions are: how is this going to increase the quality of care, how is it going to affect costs and how is this technology remain human-centered?

The first day of the conference primarily explored where medical VR is at the moment, exploring how it can be used for pain management as a complementary therapy, and the evidence and lessons that have been learned so far. The second day was devoted to patient case studies and vignettes, as well as examining the future of the technology.

The Director of Health Research at Cedars-Sinai, Brennan Spiegel, kicked off the conference with a fascinating live demo of how VR is already being used to train the next generation of medics, taking us on a virtual tour of a heart, also highlighting how VR has the potential to help patients escape the ‘biopsychosocial jail cell’ of a hospital room. Standout moments for me were; the presentation by Matthew Stoudt, MBA who explored the successes and failures when it comes to integrating VR with other clinical systems, the inspiring talk by Pastor Saul, leader of the Holman United Methodist Church in South Los Angeles about how VR was being used to try and treat high blood pressure in his congregation.

This wasn’t just a conference of medical and technology professionals congratulating themselves on a rapidly developing technology in the medical world though. The majority of the speakers in their presentations were not afraid to address very important questions about how to develop the technology to provide the best outcome for patients, whilst keeping costs low so that that it remains accessible. Successes were celebrated, but failures were acknowledged too. Questions led to more questions, showing that the medical community isn’t being passive when it comes to developing a patient-focused, evidence-based approach to VR technology.

I was also left with a lot of questions too— good questions though.  Specifically, what’s the best way to scale up this type of technology across the entire medical world and how do we make the content more user-friendly and easy to use for patients: particularly relevant when it comes to our work using VR in palliative care in Eastern Europe.

Key thoughts from the event for me were best summed up by Dr Spiegel. His four takeaways perfectly summed up my learnings from the event: 1. There’s a real need to connect VR to Electronic Health Records (EHR); 2. We need to more rigorously tests the impact of VR on the outcomes that matter most to patients; 3. We need to continue developing the technology to address unmet needs. His last takeaway to the conference was one of the most important. It highlighted the need to be realistic about the potential of VR in a healthcare setting, and not fall into the trap of overhyping it: “It’s easy to overpromise what VR can achieve.” his end slide read, “We must respect it is not a panacea for grievous suffering.”

And he’s right. When it comes to using VR in a healthcare setting, we must remain realistic and always focused on the tangible improvements in care that we can provide for our patients.

Alex Padureanu
CEO, Hospices of Hope

About the Charity
Hospices of Hope developed from very small beginnings into a leading palliative and hospice care organization in South East Europe. Since 1992, we have facilitated care for more than 40,000 patients in Romania, Moldova and Serbia and have trained more than 20,000 health care professionals from all over Central and Eastern Europe. However, much work is still to be done as there are still many vulnerable countries and groups of beneficiaries that desperately need care and do not receive it.

Hospices of Hope in the USA
The support we have received from the US has been humbling, we were incredibly inspired by people who donated money, time and skills to an organization offering services thousands of miles away from where they live and we have responded by opening a small office in Nyack, New York, thanks to the amazing support of Dr Ronna McHammond.  Ronna still runs our US branch of Hospices of Hope.

One of the most important components of our activity in the US has been, from the beginning, the transfer of know how to the country where we operate, good practice, empowering nurses etc. It all started with a project with the Rhode Island and Boston University.

At the moment we are using the skills, experience and knowledge of organizations like Cedars Sinai in LA, Stanford University or Mott Hospital in Michigan which arepioneering and piloting the usage of technology in therapy.

Find out more about our work.

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