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Innovative use of Virtual Reality (VR) headsets at St George’s

3rd January 2020

Miss Shamim Umarji is a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at St George’s Hospital. Recently, she’s been leading on a pilot study where VR headsets, funded by St George’s Hospital Charity, are being worn by patients to change the way they experience anxiety during wide-awake surgery.

The VR headsets are currently being offered to patients having regional anaesthetic for upper limb surgery in order to help them relax ahead of and during surgery. The experience allows patients to be transported to exotic locations across the world, including beaches, forests, hilltops and waterfalls, consequently diverting their attention away from their reality of being in surgery.

So far, the feedback from participants has been positive, with 100% of patients saying wearing the headset improved their overall hospital experience and 94% saying that they felt more relaxed.

Austin Mills, 23, from Putney, is one of the first patients at St George’s to wear a VR headset during surgery and commented that: “The headset helped to take my mind off what was going on and I had to make a conscious effort to not fall asleep, it was extremely relaxing. I didn’t know how long I was in there for, or what was going on around me - I was completely immersed in the VR experience.”

Additionally, Miss Umarji said: “Many patients feel quite anxious about the prospect of being awake during surgery, so it’s fantastic to see the positive impact virtual reality can have on the patient experience. As surgeons we occasionally lose sight of how daunting the operating theatre can be.”

“The other benefit of using virtual reality to manage pain and anxiety is that it avoids the need for sedatives or general anaesthesia, which takes patients much longer to recover from. It’s also self-empowering for patients because it requires their participation and involvement.”

This is believed to be the first trial of its type in Britain and St George’s Hospital Charity are thrilled to have played a role in facilitating this study which promotes our value of ensuring the patient experience is continuously improved at St George’s.

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