24 April 2018

UK-first research into use of virtual reality to help burns victims with their rehabilitation

Burns victims at Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital have taken part in a trial looking into the use of virtual reality (VR) to help with their rehabilitation.

Due to the nature of severe burns injuries, additional painkillers can’t be used when dressings are being changed. Therefore, simply changing bandages can often be incredibly painful.

Researchers from Sheffield Hallam University’s Cultural Communication and Computing Research Institute (C3RI) have looked into whether patients who play a VR game, with a headset, report feeling less pain than those who don’t. Around 20 patients took part in the trial which has shown that patients who use a VR headset to play specifically designed games while receiving treatment have a higher pain-threshold, meaning they can get the treatment needed without suffering further pain.

C3RI are currently in the process of applying for further funding to continue further research.

The researchers, led by Dr Ivan Phelan, Research Associate Game Developer at Sheffield Hallam University, carried out the trials with patients at the Northern General and recorded a huge success rate. It is the only study of its kind in the UK.

Megan Moxon, 19, is one of the patients who took part in the trial. Megan suffered severe burns to her thighs when a washing-bowl filled with near-boiling water fell onto her lap. While at the hospital, Megan was told about the trial and whether she would be interested in taking part. Megan has since said: “I was interested in taking part as it sounded cool. It was quite amazing to play games in VR while having my dressings looked at and changed. It really helped to reduce the pain I could feel and the game itself was good fun.”

Michelle Morris is a senior ward sister at the burns unit of the hospital. She said: “We’ve had great feedback from the patients who took part in the trial – and the results are very positive indeed. The game, essentially, distracts the brain from the treatment.”

Ivan Phelan and his team developed two VR games specifically for the trial; one a sheep-herding game, where users travel around the VR-landscape rounding up sheep into a pen; and a basketball game where players win points for throwing balls into basketball hoops, and extra bonus levels.

Ivan said: “We’ve developed these games to need as little button pressing as possible as often patients will have bandages on their arms or hands making it difficult. So these two games use just one, large button, and they wear the VR headset to look around and play the game.

“We have found that these proactive games work very well – with patients actually looking forward to the treatment as it meant they could play the games. The games seem to ‘distract’ the brain so that they don’t feel the pain as much.”

The project was funded by the General Medical Council (GMC).

To watch the BBC piece go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-south-yorkshire-43744009


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