VR could be key to helping recovered COVID-19 patients get therapy, according to experts

Laura Lovett
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Authors of an article published in BMJ Open Sport Exercise Medicine say the technology could help with rehab therapies, with social distancing.

Virtual reality could be key to COVID-19 rehabilitation, according to a new paper published in BMJ Open Sport Exercise Medicine. Specifically, the authors of the publication pitch tailor-made rehabilitation services that can be administered remotely via a VR experience.

The authors explain that many COVID-19 patients who were critically ill continue to have Post-Intensive Care Syndrome, even after the infection is gone, leaving a potential risk for physical, psychological and cognitive impairment.

“Traditional PICS treatments also do not account for the additional emotional and societal side-effects of this particular crisis, such as social distancing, limitation of family members’ visits and consultations by primary caregivers when patients are discharged,” authors of the study wrote. “VR provides healthcare practitioners with the means to administer fast, temporary and tailor-made rehabilitation services at a distance, and offers a solution to address the impending surge of demand for PICS-COV therapy.”

VR could help patients not just with physical rehab but could also help with psychological support for patients who have overcome COVID-19.

Authors noted that the technology is well suited to today’s environment as it lets therapy be delivered at a distance and allows therapists, who may be in high demand, to treat patients simultaneously. VR differs from traditional telemedicine, the paper says, because of its ability to put patients into a 3D environment.

However, VR also presents new sets of challenges, according to the article. Those challenges include creating a new toolkit for physical, mental and cognitive therapy. The risk of falls is another potential issue in the technology. Authors of the paper suggested that patients should sit when doing cognitive and mental health-related therapy. Proper patient education was also suggested.

WHY IT MATTERS

According to a paper published in Heart Lung, 50% of all patients admitted to the ICU that go onto a ventilator develop PICS. The paper goes on to note that there is no difference in PICS risk between ICU patients with morbidities such as diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary and those admitted to the ICU who do not have a morbidity.

THE LARGER TREND

Virtual reality is growing in popularity in the healthcare space. In Italy one hospital is supplying VR therapy to its workers to help reduce the stress and anxiety associated with treated coronavirus patients.

Virtual reality is also growing in the rehabilitation space, in stroke care in particular. In February a use-of-concept study found that stroke patients given virtual reality therapy were consistent in completing the therapy, and preferred a version that let them connect to others.

In 2018, a rehabilitation research group from the Kessler Foundation and immersive interactive technologies company Virtualware announced the two organizations are teaming up to develop a VR-based treatment for spatial neglect in stroke patients.

VR could be key to helping recovered COVID-19 patients get therapy, according to experts