#SundayResearchDive: The Imperative of Safety and Ethics in Healthcare VR and AR

A Warm Welcome and Special Acknowledgment:

My weekends typically involve a scholarly excursion to PubMed to review the week’s novel contributions in the realms of VR and AR in healthcare and education. I usually share these insights through a weekly LinkedIn post. Today, I am honored to broaden this discourse, courtesy of an invitation to contribute to VRforHealth. A heartfelt thank you to Denise Silber for enabling this platform to host vital conversations that shape the future of VR and AR in healthcare.

A Shift to Foundational Concerns:

Today, we step back from dissecting specific clinical applications to tackle an issue that underpins all healthcare VR and AR projects: the ethics and safety involved. No matter the therapeutic context, whether it’s chronic pain, rehabilitation, or palliative care, our commitment to patient safety and ethical implementation must be constant.

📌 This Week’s Spotlight: Ethical and Safety Considerations for VR Therapists in Palliative Care

Our spotlight centers on an insightful perspective article by Olive K. L. Woo, exploring the necessity for specialized training, scrupulous skill sets, and above all, a rigorous ethical and safety framework for therapists engaging in VR applications within palliative care settings.

📚 Clinical Insights:
The Promise and the Peril
Virtual Reality offers exciting possibilities for symptom management in palliative care. But this new frontier comes with its own set of ethical and safety challenges, an aspect that Woo’s paper profoundly highlights.

Focus on Safety: The Multi-Faceted Role of a VR Therapist
Woo argues for meticulous training for VR therapists, emphasizing not just the technical competencies, but also the clinical and ethical considerations, ensuring the safety and effectiveness of VR/AR applications in healthcare This role is multi-dimensional and requires an amalgamation of three main skills:

Clinical Role:
The VR therapist should possess a strong background to offer psychological support and interventions before, during, and after VR exposure. This includes pre-VR psychological assessments, customized interventions based on individual patient needs, and post-VR therapeutic support.

Technical Role:
Technical proficiency is essential for the safe delivery of VR interventions. This encompasses everything from basic operation of the hardware and software to more intricate tasks like ensuring patient comfort and minimizing cybersickness.

Supervisory Role:
The VR therapist should be capable of mentoring future therapists, providing feedback, and ensuring ongoing professional development. This ensures a robust framework for the safe and effective delivery of VR therapies across various healthcare settings.

Clinical Relevance in Our Work
Here at Badalona Serveis Assistencials, patient safety remains our top priority. We are actively engaged in rigorous evaluations to minimize potential side-effects and are unequivocally committed to ensuring the effectiveness and safety of our VR solutions.

🌟 Concluding Thoughts:

Emerging technologies like VR hold immense potential for improving patient care but come with an equally significant responsibility to ensure safety and ethical integrity. Woo’s article is a clarion call for healthcare professionals and developers to be as invested in understanding the risks as we are in exploring the benefits.

Intrigued by this essential topic? Read the full article here: DOI: 10.3389/fmedt.2023.1268662.

José Ferrer Costa MD

Innovation and Projects @ Badalona Serveis Assistencials