Video: VITAS Healthcare Virtual Reality Study on the AT&T 5G Network Reveals Promising Results

March 19, 2020

MIAMI, FL – Early results from a virtual reality (VR) therapy study led by VITAS Healthcare, powered by the AT&T 5G network, show that hospice patients experienced relief from pain, anxiety, and even disease-specific symptoms. In its latest video, VITAS highlights the utility of cutting-edge technology when paired with the deeply personal, compassionate work that VITAS care teams perform every day.

VITAS, the nation’s leading provider of end-of-life care, and AT&T Business collaborated in 2018 to observe the potential therapeutic effects of VR and augmented reality (AR) for certain hospice patients. The study also set out to examine the efficacy of the AT&T 5G networking infrastructure for enabling AR/VR tech.

A year after the study’s launch, initial results are even more promising than anticipated.

“VR technology is showing an incredible capacity to elevate our patients’ moods, diminish their symptom load, and provide opportunities to explore and remain connected with the outside world.”-Chief Medical Officer Joseph Shega, MD

VITAS hypothesized that VR could improve comfort for hospice patients experiencing pain and limited mobility near the end of life. VITAS care teams that conducted the therapy found that VR helped relieve pain and also eased anxiety, loneliness, and other disease-related symptoms, such as shortness of breath.

“The potential of VR as an alternative therapy for patients with high symptom burden has intrigued the medical community since the technology penetrated the consumer market,” said Patrick Hale, chief information officer for VITAS. “The study’s early findings offer the first glimpses of VR’s measurable benefits and indicate the value of additional research into this largely unexplored, low-cost modality.”

The patients themselves expressed excitement over the therapy. Patients claimed they felt very relaxed, with many reporting decreased pain. Hale shares that “the first patient we tried VR therapy with was a woman in her 70s in immense pain after a stroke. Her pain score was a 10, the worst you can feel, and even with maximum-dose opioids she could only come down to a score of 8, which for most of us is still excruciating. After 10 minutes of VR therapy, including a visit to Machu Picchu and a guided meditation in an English garden, she reported a pain score of 2, which was amazing. The relief held for several hours, allowing her to get the first deep sleep she’d had in months.”

The results suggest that the therapeutic potential of VR is expansive, offering physical, mental, and psychosocial benefits for hospice patients. In addition to symptom relief, VR can enable a patient to “travel” to faraway places, perform feats like cliff diving or riding a roller coaster, or visit family and friends.

“As a patient approaches the end of life, the effects of illness can shrink their world until it’s no bigger than their home or bedroom. This can be incredibly disheartening to patients and their families,” said Dr. Joseph Shega, senior vice president and chief medical officer for VITAS. “Part of leading the way in hospice care is searching constantly for new approaches to enhance quality of life for VITAS patients. Already, VR technology is showing an incredible capacity to elevate our patients’ moods, diminish their symptom load, and provide opportunities to explore and remain connected with the outside world.”

VITAS also envisions VR as an opportunity for caregivers to develop deeper connections with patients, creating shared moments and memories as the caregiver implements and oversees the VR experience for their patient—at relatively low cost and with minimal training. This shared experience builds trust between both parties, enabling more effective clinical and psychosocial care at the end of life.

VITAS takes prides in pushing technological frontiers in its care delivery. A redesigned mobile referral app makes it even easier for clinicians to know when a patient may be eligible for hospice and ensure a seamless transition to compassionate end-of-life care. Download the app at VITASapp.com.

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