Australian-first virtual reality test to help patients

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A private hospital in Perth is the first in Australia to trial a technique that uses virtual reality images to reduce anxiety in patients.

Patients undergoing knee operations at Ramsay Health Care’s Hollywood Private Hospital will be given virtual reality goggles with beach images before entering the operating theatre.

Researchers believe watching the scenes for 10 minutes can help keep patients’ heart rate and blood pressure in check and reduce the need for medication.

It’s the first time the technique has been tested in Australia, but Surgical Realities, the company behind the idea, said it could eventually become standard care if successful.

And the early indication is it will be, according to company chief operating officer Anitra Robertson.

“We’re doing tests at the moment,” Ms Robertson said.

“It’s easy and non-invasive and people report feeling very calm, with some even falling asleep.

“We’ve done 12 to 15 patients and some have come out of submersion in a very relaxed state.”

The testing is a collaboration between Surgical Realities, Hollywood Private Hospital, The Joint Studio and The University of Notre Dame Australia.

Researchers at Notre Dame are looking at how virtual reality technology can assist in managing pain and anxiety in patients.

The university’s churack chair for chronic pain education and research, Professor Eric Visser said it was an exciting area of research.

“Anxiety and fear are some of the most common experiences people have to deal with when they go to hospital and can make pain, nausea and vomiting worse,” Professor Visser said.

“Severe anxiety like a sense of doom around the time of an operation places a strain on vital organs like the heart, brain, gut and kidneys, which sometimes leads to high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and poor wound healing.

“Anxious patients also consume more painkillers which leads to side effects such as drowsiness, constipation, bowel blockages, nausea and vomiting.”

Depending on how effective the remaining trials are, Ms Robinson said the technique could be used more widely as early as next year.

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