It’s Not Just for Video Games: Using Virtual Reality to Enhance Patient Care

COMPLETED RESEARCH – KEY FINDINGS AND IMPACT

Virtual reality technology can be used to recreate issues patients may experience in their homes and identify the complex and concurrent interactions impacting personal health information management.

Principal Investigator
Organization
Research Project Profile
Funding Amount
$2,424,627

The rise of chronic diseases and the need to complete healthcare tasks in the home

What if healthcare providers could “visit” a patient’s home using virtual reality (VR) technology? What if they could incorporate the characteristics of the home identified during this “visit” into the patient’s plan of care? A University of Wisconsin-based research team aims to do just that. As chronic diseases become more common, healthcare tasks are often completed in the home instead of in the clinician’s office or hospital. Unlike formal medical settings, the home environment lacks the type of controlled environment that is ideal for healthcare tasks. For patients with complex medical treatments or limited mobility, completing these tasks at home can be particularly difficult.

Innovative approaches to understanding patient needs

Led by Dr. Kevin Ponto, the research team used laser technology to create digital models of the homes of patients diagnosed with diabetes and explore its features in VR. To gain a better understanding of the cognitive processes of completing healthcare tasks, the team used the VR simulations to recreate the issues patients encounter with those tasks at home, and evaluated the connections between social structure, physical environment, and task.

“This research could guide how homes are designed to accommodate an aging population who are very interested in living at home.”
– Dr. Ponto

VR technology can help people age in place

Dr. Ponto and his team found that personal health information management is the result of many complex interactions. They observed that two patients rarely complete a task the same way, even when in the same environment. As the healthcare worker shortage continues, this technology could assist in planning for transitional care and hospital discharges for aging adults who wish to stay in their homes. It could also be expanded to other conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Ponto believes VR technology is a “critical step” to improving medical self-management at home.