Virtual world to help relieve patients' pain

(Medical Xpress)—Researchers in Birmingham are hoping to use the hi-tech world of virtual reality in a bid to relieve the pain of hospital patients.

Staff at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham (QEHB) and the University of Birmingham are working on using computer game technology to alleviate patients' and discomfort through distraction therapy.

Patients would be able to wander around a virtual world based on the natural delights of Devon, with simulated 'walks' along a coastal path or through woodland.

Critical Care Registrar Dr Charlotte Small, who is leading the clinical side of the project, said: "The work we are looking at is the use of in a number of ways, initially around pain management.

"These mainly involve the changing of dressings of burns patients and complex trauma involving military patients, but we are also looking at the issue of .

"We are looking to design a purpose-built system so it can be used by patients with even severe injuries."

As part of the two-year project, a study was carried out over several weeks within the QEHB burns unit which looked at the effectiveness of pain relief treatment ranging from to morphine.

It found that more than a third (37 per cent) of burns patients still experienced moderate or when their dressings were changed even when given morphine or other pain relief medication.

Added Dr Small: "We are looking at patient satisfaction and whether it helps patients by reducing pain."

The project, which focuses on 'virtual nature therapy', will involve two virtual worlds which have been developed at the University of Birmingham. They consist of Virtual Wembury and Virtual Burrator, both of which exist for real in Devon.

Virtual Wembury provides users with a mile-long coastal path, while Virtual Burrator is based around the actual reservoir in Dartmoor. The Virtual Wembury game also has a speedboat version which patients can control, while further work could involve patients sitting in a 'virtual pedalo' which they can power by moving their legs in bed.

"Research says viewing nature is relaxing and therapeutic," said Dr Small. "Using a screen, you can decide to walk up a hill, go over a bridge, or sit on the beach and watch a sunset or boats going by.

The virtual worlds were initially developed by postgraduate students at the university's Human Interface Technologies Team, led by Professor Bob Stone. The initial motivation for the virtual reality project came as a result of Ministry of Defence-funded research addressing the potential use of simulation technologies for future physical and psychological therapies.

Initially, patients will be provided with a simple "ring mouse", enabling them to jump between selected viewpoints, but still be free to look around at the changing scenery. As they get better they will be able to walk around their using a series of different controls and with the benefit of natural sounds through headphones.

Prof Stone said a "highly unique and very rewarding" aspect of this research was addressing how to exploit virtual recreations of areas of natural beauty to help patients recover from traumatic incidents, including operations.

He added: "Previous research suggests that exposing individuals to natural environments, such as rural and coastal settings, can promote stress reduction and reduce post-operative recovery times and the need for pharmaceutical pain relief.

"In collaboration with the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine (RCDM) and QEHB, the project aims to exploit simulated restorative environments to deliver similar benefits to those individuals who are unable to access and experience real natural environments."

Prof Stone said studies were being carried out to evaluate individuals' responses to the simulated sights, sounds and even smells of those recreations.

Related Stories

Virtual coach helps Parkinson's patients stick with exercise

May 31, 2013

New research from Terry Ellis, assistant professor at Sargent College and Director of the Center for Neurorehabilitation, has found that a virtual exercise coach was effective in helping individuals with Parkinson's disease ...

Virtual natural environments and benefits to health

May 30, 2011

A new position paper by researchers at the European Centre for the Environment and Human Health (ECEHH - part of the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry) and the University of Birmingham has compared the benefits ...

Weight loss programs via virtual reality

Apr 26, 2013

Weight loss is a topic of concern for nearly 36% of Americans who are considered obese. There are many barriers that can interfere with weight loss. For those attending face-to-face weight loss programs, barriers can include ...

Recommended for you

What are the chances that your dad isn't your dad?

Apr 16, 2014

How confident are you that the man you call dad is really your biological father? If you believe some of the most commonly-quoted figures, you could be forgiven for not being very confident at all. But how ...

New technology that is revealing the science of chewing

Apr 15, 2014

CSIRO's 3D mastication modelling, demonstrated for the first time in Melbourne today, is starting to provide researchers with new understanding of how to reduce salt, sugar and fat in food products, as well ...

After skin cancer, removable model replaces real ear

Apr 11, 2014

(HealthDay)—During his 10-year struggle with basal cell carcinoma, Henry Fiorentini emerged minus his right ear, and minus the hearing that goes with it. The good news: Today, the 56-year-old IT programmer ...

Italy scraps ban on donor-assisted reproduction

Apr 09, 2014

Italy's Constitutional Court on Wednesday struck down a Catholic Church-backed ban against assisted reproduction with sperm or egg donors that has forced thousands of sterile couples to seek help abroad.

User comments