Patient Testimony: From the engagement mindset to VR

“Small interventions that engage patients have the power to influence healing.”

In 2008, I decided to get a buzz cut before my hair fell out in clumps on the shower floor. I wasn’t prepared for the shift in psychological mindset such a small decision was about to make in the year that followed. It came to be one of the most empowering moments in my life in understanding what small engagements could make possible in influencing mindset.

While I had zero control over a cancer diagnosis and imminent treatment— I did have 100% control over how I would choose to perceive and navigate it.

Engaged or passive? Driver or passenger?

Upon entering the healthcare system, it was clear being a cancer patient would demand an unavoidable amount of time sitting around, anxiously waiting. Specifically, hours of nail-biting chair time: at check-in reception, waiting for doctors to arrive, chemo infusions, hospital surgical recovery, in clinic procedures, blood draws, MRI’s, biopsies, waiting for results. Surely, someone in administration audited these hours from a patient’s perspective to understand the impact on patient experience? Not that I could tell.

As if the disease and the treatment were not enough, my very surroundings were a source of discomfort. I was submerged in a thick fog of hospital antiseptic smells, shivering in freezing rooms dressed in tissue paper, under fluorescent lighting alone with my own thoughts, staring at four walls for hours at a torn “How to Cough” hospital flyer or slowly ticking clock. Sounds of a blaring newscast or worse— hearing the soft cries of a fellow patient losing their battle while I hung on to fight mine. Chemo brain disqualified me from enjoying and devouring books. TV was even less appealing and unengaging.

It is the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.

John Wooden, UCLA Head Coach

But then I remembered, I was in control of how I would experience and perceive this time

Small interventions under my control, like learning breath, visualization, meditation and mindfulness techniques became increasingly effective at distraction, coping and time compression during hospital visits. Over time, intentional engagement became a developing mental asset that I brought into the full equation of my care, especially during “chair time”. This mindset became as powerful of an ally as the healing medicine I would receive to get through.

Today, patients facing a variety of medical conditions, can use virtual reality technology to harness fully immersive experiences that effectively deliver clinical-grade distraction, coping and time compression benefits. A modern example of the good technology can bring both to healthcare settings and toward patient outcomes. These small interventions both lighten hours of chair time while delivering proven clinical benefits at the very same time.

While we can’t control much of our medical destiny, we can engage on the level of our experience in navigating it. Virtual Reality therapeutic tools have the innovative ability to connect to this challenge and transform patient experience and outcomes for those to come.

Beth Savoldelli