Virtual Reality Game Helping Young Hemophilia Patients Ignore Painful Treatments

Virtual Reality Game Helping Young Hemophilia Patients Ignore Painful Treatments

The hemophilia team and design experts at Nationwide Children’s Hospital partnered with students from Ohio State University’s Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD) to develop a virtual reality game that aims to help the hospital’s pediatric hemophilia patients during procedures.

Hemophilia patients often have to go through hundreds of infusions and other procedures that involve needle sticks, and for the youngest among them these procedures can cause not only pain, but also fear and stress, and risk leading to long-term anxiety about the healthcare system.

The game, called Voxel Bay, is now in a pilot study at Nationwide. It was specifically designed to engage pediatric patients in an environment filled penguins, pirates, and hermit crabs during procedures, to distract them from the infusions or other painful but necessary treatments they undergo.

A nurse clinician in the comprehensive hemophilia treatment center at Nationwide for 30 years, Charmaine Biega, saw 6-year-old Brody Bowman fully relaxed while receiving his infusion, something she says she had never seen before.

“Brody just started getting his treatments through IV on a regular basis and was having a really rough time,” Biega said in a press release. “But the first time he used the game in clinic, he was so completely engaged in the game when the IV was administered, he just barely flinched. The difference in how patients react during a procedure when they are playing these interactive games is remarkable.”

A tablet allows nurses to interact with the patients through the game, and see exactly what they are seeing in their game headset, allowing for interaction. The disposable, light-weight headset, created by the design team, is both easy for children to use and, of course, hands-free — an important feature for patients who need infusions.

The pilot study is funded with a National Hemophilia Foundation research grant, and testing how well virtual reality technology integrates into the clinic setting. Parents, patients and nurses are providing feedback on the game’s usability and likability.

“I work with pediatric patients with bleeding disorders and know all too well the fears and anxiety that they and their families experience related to frequent needle sticks,” said Amy Dunn, MD, director of Hematology at Nationwide Children’s. “I took this problem to our incredible design team and asked them to help our hemophilia team create a solution that would be cost-effective, friendly, safe, engaging for children of any age, and help with adherence to treatments ultimately leading to better outcomes.”

The hemophilia team is now exploring what applications this technology could have in the home setting, and how virtual reality aid in patient education.

“The feedback we have gotten so far has been really positive,” Dunn said. “[W]e designed an approach that is truly engaging and immersive for kids and is customized to their needs, and we believe it will really make a difference in their treatment and outcomes.”

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