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Case/Article Review 9
In a study published in the journal Environment & Behaviour, a team of researchers at the Universities of Plymouth, Exeter and Birmingham worked with Torrington Dental Practice in Devon to find out whether giving patients virtual reality headsets to wear, during dental operations, could improve the patient's experience.
Patients, who had agreed to take part in the study were randomly allocated to one of three conditions: a) standard care (i.e. normal practice), b) a virtual walk around Wembury beach in Devon (using a headset and handheld controller), or c) a walk around an anonymous virtual reality city. Results found that those who 'walked' around Wembury were less anxious, experienced less pain, and had more positive recollections of their treatment a week later, than those in the standard care condition. These benefits were not found for those who walked around the virtual city.
Dr. Karin Tanja-Dijkstra was the lead author of the study. She said: "The use of virtual reality in health care settings is on the rise but we need more rigorous evidence of whether it actually improves patient experiences. Our research demonstrates that under the right conditions, this technology can be used to help both patients and practitioners." The fact that only patients who visited Wembury, and not the virtual city, had better experiences than standard care is consistent with a growing body of work that shows that natural environments, and marine environments in particular, can help reduce stress and anxiety.
The team are hoping to now investigate whether Virtual Wembury can help patients in other medical contexts and whether certain additions to the virtual environment could make the experience even better.
Outline the main issues raised
(Reference: Adapted from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170614091809.htm)
Example Candidate Response
Many patients find dental treatment to be highly anxiety inducing. Therefore, dentists are constantly looking for ways to improve the patient experience.
A recent study provided patients with a VR headset, showing a local beach, or an anonymous virtual city. One further group of patients were provided with standard care (i.e. no headset). It was found that the beach virtual reality significantly lessened anxiety and pain. The city had no effect versus the standard treatment environment.
This raises the question of whether VR environments are a suitable alternative, or adjunct to, standard painkillers or anti-anxiolytics.
New technologies like this could cause concern in some patients, and others will undoubtedly see this as a distraction compared to being provided medication.
When introducing a concept as potentially revolutionary as this, there must be a great effort made to educate the public, or individual patients, in order that they are not worried or concerned by it - and so that the technology is given the best chance to improve patient care.