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Penn Medicine tests virtual reality solution for radiotherapy patient experience

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | August 22, 2022
Rad Oncology
Rocket VR Health and Penn Medicine are testing the use of a new virtual reality solution to calm patients before radiotherapy procedures. (Photo courtesy of Rocket VR Health)
Rocket VR Health, based in Boston, has launched a feasibility study with Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center around the use of its virtual reality technology for calming patients during radiotherapy.

The company’s immersive meditation program utilizes imagery and sounds to create nature-themed environments that reduce anxiety and prevent patients from moving during operations. Being in nature, even digitally, reduces blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and stress hormone production, and improves physical wellbeing, according to Rocket VR’s website.

It says it is the first business to use virtual reality to address mental health conditions from cancer treatment.

In the study, 25 patients will use the technology before receiving daily treatments, and fill out questionnaires before and after about their experience. Staff will also discuss the ease in deploying the technology.

“Past procedural VR solutions have been very bulky and that has affected their adoption within healthcare. We feel that the lightweight form factor of the device will make this a more pleasant experience,” Nik Vassev, COO and co-founder of Rocket VR Health, told HCB News.

The solution consists of software designed by Rocket VR Health, and the HTC VIVE Flow VR headset, designed by virtual reality company High Tech Computer Corporation (HTC).

The headset immerses patients in over 20 different 3D environments, and weighs 189 grams, the weight of an average smartphone, making it lightweight. It also does not wrap around the top or back of the head, making it more comfortable.

Penn helped design the solution and study, as well as the workflow for integrating the device into the hospital environment. "Because radiation therapy is challenging when the patient is anxious and unable to lie still, we hope to gauge how well patients can slow their breathing for a more comfortable experience,” said Dr. William Levin, an associate radiation oncology professor at the Perelman School of Medicine at Penn, in a statement.

The university and company will conduct a follow-up that will include biometrics to track heart rate to assess the effectiveness of the intervention. They also will incorporate quantitative data and put the Vive FLOW in the radiation room for exposure.

“We plan on using this proton and standard photon room, and determining the device's life expectancy in the room. Some centers we are working with want to do the procedural relaxation and distraction before, but some want it during, so we want to be able to provide it in both of these cases,” said Vassev.

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