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Virtual Reality gives hospice patients the experiences they long for

Canadian Healthcare Technology

Hana Irving


What is the link between the heart-pounding thrill offree-falling from a plane while skydiving; serenity, peace, and calm felt while exploring a hidden rainforest; awe and fascination while taking in masterpieces like the Mona Lisa?

All these experiences – and more – are now available for patients and their loved ones to share at Journey Home Hospice (JHH), thanks to an innovative new pilot of virtual reality (VR) technology with MyndVR.

When Jason (we’ve changed his name to protect his privacy) was admitted to Journey Home Hospice, his life had been full of challenges. He had experienced homelessness since his early twenties, and at the age of 63, he now faces a terminal cancer diagnosis and the realization that some of his dreams will never be attained.

There are many other patients like Jason at the Journey Home Hospice, in the heart of downtown Toronto. The facility offers 24/7 residential hospice palliative care, specifically designed for patients experiencing homelessness and structural vulnerability.

Operated by the Saint Elizabeth Foundation (SE Health), the hospice provides specialized programs with a trauma-informed, culturally safe, and harm reducing approach to care. Moreover, innovation and wellness are entrenched in the holistic services it provides.

“Our patients are most often vulnerable and have lived lives heavily influenced by poverty, stigmatization, and structural barriers to care,” reflected Felicia Kontopidis, RN, director of Care. “Most of them have not had the means or the opportunity to travel or prioritize experiences in their lifetime. The virtual reality program is opening doors that they never thought could be possible.”

The process of choosing a company to work with on the VR project was led by the SE Health Innovation and Digital Health Team. They chose MyndVR, whose virtual reality technology is a new type of digital therapeutic – it utilizes oftware to address mental and physical conditions in patients through prevention, management, or treatment alongside traditional medical


Their VR programming and technology draws on 30 years of scientific research

demonstrating that immersive technology can have four key benefits: “induces and maintains positive emotional states; reduces the perception of pain as a distraction technique; reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness; and counteracts negative emotional states.”1

Embracing the spirit of innovation, SE has an unwavering dedication to excellence. “We aim to connect, innovators, researchers, frontline staff, academia, and external partners to find innovative solutions to ensure exceptional patient experiences,” stated Mary Lou Ackerman, VP, Innovation and Digital Health. “Not only do patients benefit from the virtual reality experiences offered through this organization, but we also have confidence that the choice of material will demonstrate health and wellness benefits beyond pure recreation.”

The technology itself is very simple to use: a lightweight pair of goggles is paired with a tablet to access original and licenced VR content, offering hundreds of immersive experiences that can be activated alone or shared with a friend or family member.

MyndVR content is particularly curated with older adults in mind and their

catalogue contains a mix of comforting nostalgic experiences coupled with more intense adventure scenarios that may help individuals cross off bucket-list activities like skydiving, roller coaster rides, or even scuba diving.

“Our mission is to empower users to reach their therapeutic goals by making fun, engaging and rewarding using virtual reality,” said Chris Brickler, CEO of MyndVR. “We are building the most advanced portfolio of original and licensed therapeutic VR content that enables older adults to interact with the outside world in innovative ways that promote engagement, wellness, and positive

outcomes. Today, thousands of seniors across Canada, the United States, Australia and the UK are using MyndVR to make their experience with aging one

that is boundless and freeing, rather than limiting.”

At Journey Home Hospice, patients use the VR goggles to revisit favourite memories, or engage in adventures they may not be able to physically accomplish at end-of-life, integrating seamlessly into existing wellness activities at the hospice.

For example, one patient who had never been outside the city is able to take virtual trips with his father, bringing both a sense of joy and adventure. The street view add-in to the VR goggles also allowed another patient to stroll through their neighbourhood and revisit their childhood home.

Patient feedback from the first two months of use indicated that 60 percent

of users felt happier and less lonely after a VR experience, also expressing interest in using the technology again in the future.

The VR program is just one example of how technology is shaping hospice

care at Journey Home Hospice. “We need to specialize our care to meet the unique needs of our patients,” said Nancy Lefebre, COO, SVP, SE Health.

“Last year we introduced an electronic health record that improved our patient

safety and care outcomes. This year we’re looking to engage with technology to impact the full continuum of holistic care services in a socially innovative way.”

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