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Virtual Reality Is Helping Surgeons Plan Procedures, but It May Also Calm Patients Before Undergoing Radiation Therapy.


Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University conducted a pilot study to determine if a virtual environment education program could reduce patient anxiety. “So many aspects of cancer care can produce anxiety for our patients, which can negatively impact their health and well-being,” said Matthew Marquess, co-first author and program director of radiation therapy at Jefferson College of Health Professions, said in a statement.

Twenty-two prostate cancer patients completed a 16-question survey to evaluate their anxiety and understanding of the procedure. The survey assessed their level of anxiety associated with being alone in the treatment room, treatment precision, claustrophobia, effects of daily X-rays and pain.

The research team then provided personalized education for each patient using the Virtual Environment Radiotherapy software developed by the company Vertual. It uses 3-D views and life-size visualizations of structures, dose, CT and beams of the DICOM radiotherapy plans. After the education session, the patients repeated the survey and the results showed that the patients were significantly less anxious and had a much better understanding of the procedure. The patients and their families used words like confidence, relief and satisfaction to describe how they felt.

“Our pilot study showed that by using a simulated environment to teach our patients about their upcoming radiation therapy treatments, we can significantly increase their understanding of the treatment and reduce their anxiety,” said Marquess.

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