Virtual Reality today
Almost all of us know what virtual reality is and how it works. It has been around for decades. But if this is the first time you have been reading about it, the simplest way to describe it is that virtual reality or commonly known as VR uses computer technology to bring a user to a digital “space” where the user can move and interact in a simulated environment.
VR has been playing a prominent role in the gaming industry for some time now and is now rapidly expanding its influence into other sectors such as education, travel, entertainment, work and healthcare.
Virtual Reality in Healthcare
VR in the healthcare industry has long been practised whether as a simulation tool or an interactive tool. More and more today, VR is also being used in healthcare education such as medical, dental, nursing and paramedical schools. Many medical-related learners have already acquired knowledge of human anatomy using the virtual environment, especially when the pandemic hit and online learning became integral to the sector. Through VR students and educators have been able to learn and perform procedures and surgeries on a virtual patient in a safe and controlled environment allowing for faster and safer skills acquisition.
Since the take-off of AWTG’s healthcare solutions such as Intelligent Clinical Management Solution (iCMS), Intelligent Workplace Solution (iWPS) and the case study of Intelligent Connected Assistive Living (iCAL), the company has always been encouraged to discover innovative ways on the healthcare sector thus the nascency of virtual reality for mental disorders.
This year, the World Health Organization released news that the pandemic triggered a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide and call all countries to step up their mental health services support.
What is AWTG’s Virtual Reality Behavioral Activation Project (VRBA)?
The Virtual Reality Behavioural Activation Project (VRBA) is an innovative initiative to assess the effectiveness of Virtual Reality technology in delivering remote Behavioural Activation (BA) therapy to aid depression. This project increases the availability of help for young people aged 16 – 25 suffering from mild to moderate depression (e.g. low mood, social isolation, decreased enjoyment and withdrawal from pleasant activities) by providing support content through an innovative new approach using virtual reality (VR). The tool itself will be created by translating content from a commonly used clinical model which has demonstrable high success rates: Behavioural Activation (BA) (Lorenzo-Luaces 2019). This model is a structured psychotherapeutic approach that aims to increase engagement in activities associated with pleasure or mastery and decrease activities that maintain depression or increase the risk of depression.
To date, BA therapy has been delivered conventionally through face-to-face methods. Face-to-face BA therapy has demonstrated high success rates amongst individuals with mild to moderate depression, this project will take this success to the next stage by making BA therapy readily available to all by increasing accessibility by a mobile application. The chosen cohort (16-25 years): typically, early adopters of the technology will facilitate a true study of the VR content without the need for attention on levels of acceptance for this innovative approach.
Patients are still required to consult a health specialist and undertake the initial detailed assessment through face to face sessions. This allows the specialist to design a bespoke treatment plan to meet the needs of the patient. Every virtual reality session differs depending on the patient’s condition. Each session will be structured to address the inherent issue.
Benefits to the Health Service and Patients
VRBA will be part of a treatment plan. It will be an additional step to the face-to-face BA delivery method.
- Safe and controlled environment. Users will have the opportunity to try a range of suitable scenarios virtually which will reduce treatment-related anxiety, increasing uptake and compliance.
- Patient control. The future vision of this development is to reduce the number of patients waiting to receive treatment and make Behavioral Activation Therapy readily available to anyone.
- The promise of breaking the stigma of mental disorders. This project will challenge to break barriers recognise through the stigma of mental illness which are holding some individuals back from seeking help due to their sex, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or age.
- Great motivator. VR adds fun to traditional therapy. With multiple scenarios, even gamification and personalisation.