Virtual reality pilot for patients improves wellbeing

Patient trying out VR headsetVirtual reality can support patient wellbeing and increase confidence – those are the key findings from a new virtual reality programme designed to help patients with mobility issues experience the arts. 

Last month, Royal Brompton and Harefield’s dedicated arts team, rb&hArts, completed a pilot of technology which saw patients ‘step’ into virtual reality worlds to produce virtual artwork of their own. Feedback from patients included: “It made me happier,” “it would make a huge difference to people in hospital.”

The idea came after conversations with SDNA, a cutting-edge digital art agency who collaborated with the arts team in 2016 to create a moving image projected onto the walls of Harefield Hospital’s operating theatres reception area, where patients wait before having their procedure.

Karen Janody, interim head of arts, said: “We started discussing the use of virtual reality as a way to engage individuals with low-mobility – taking how it is used in gaming, for example, and translating this to an art context.

“We developed it as a proposal to engage older patients in technology in a creative way, so that it would help break fear and anxieties and improve wellbeing, especially as we are progressing into an increasingly technological world.”

Initial sessions were held with patients during the arts team’s ‘Silver Sunday’ event, as part of the national day to celebrate and support older people, and with respiratory patients in Singing for Breathing sessions both at Harefield Library and Royal Brompton Hospital’s Victoria ward.

Wearing a headset, participants used ergonomic controllers to ‘paint’ around a selection of virtual environments, such as outer space, or under the sea.

Once the group members were accustomed to the software, they collaborated on a group artwork within the same virtual space.

The team then partnered with Open Age, a local charity that focuses on enabling the over-50s to sustain active lifestyles and develop new interests. Additional sessions were held in North Kensington for the local community, and in Harefield Hospital’s Rowan ward for transplant patients.

Jenny Marshall, head of member experience at Open Age, said: “We were delighted to work with the Trust, to offer this opportunity to our members. We strive to connect people over the age of 50, through a broad range of activities, to enable them to enjoy active and fulfilling lives.

“In taking part in this exciting virtual reality pilot, we are not only bridging the digital divide, but offering new opportunities – and of course, a lot of fun!”

The project was brought to life thanks to funding from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s ‘Arts Grant Scheme’ and Hillingdon Arts.

rb&hArts are supported by a range of organisations, including Royal Brompton & Harefield Hospitals Charity, as well as individual donors.