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Latest strides: The new (virtual) reality of care

Immersive technologies are opening up new opportunities at BC Children's Hospital

It’s your child’s birthday. Normally, she would have a party with her closest friends and family. This year, however, is different. She’s far from home, recovering from surgery in the hospital. 

But what if you could visually transport her to that birthday party? With the power of immersive technologies—including virtual and augmented reality—it’s possible. And BC Children’s Hospital is working to harness its benefits for kids receiving care. 

From transporting patients to see their faraway friends and families to mimicking the MRI experience ahead of an actual scan, which can be scary for kids, immersive technologies can positively impact a child’s hospital experience. 

Through a three-year pilot project, John Jacob, senior director and head of the Digital Lab at BC Children's, hopes to make immersive technologies available across the hospital. 

“Immersive technologies open up brand new opportunities at BC Children’s Hospital to enhance the experience and quality of care for patients and families.” —John Jacob, senior director and head of the Digital Lab at BC Children's Hospital. 

The project will be led through a partnership between the Child and Youth Therapeutic Services Department, staffed by child life specialists, and the hospital’s Digital Lab. For child life specialists—who work to help make the hospital experience as positive as possible for kids—preparing children for something like an MRI scan can be one major benefit of immersive technology. 

“We know that preparation prior to a procedure is an important part of helping children feel at ease and confident in their ability to cope well with medical tests and procedures,” said Lisa Daechsel, certified child life specialist. 

In the oncology clinic, children are whisked away into an alternate digital universe, diverting their attention away from the pain and discomfort they may experience. 

“Virtual reality in the oncology clinic has been amazing,” said Dr. Caron Strahlendorf, head of the division of pediatric hematology, oncology and bone marrow transplantation. “It allows the team to perform painful procedures with the children distracted, happy and cooperative.” 

Beyond the pilot project, John is hopeful that immersive technology will continue to shape a positive patient experience. 

“Our long-term vision is to ensure that all patients and providers who can benefit from this technology, are able to do so seamlessly and with the greatest impact to outcomes,” said John. 

To learn more about The Digital Lab at BC Children’s, visit bcchdigital.ca.

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