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New VR app may ease MR anxiety

por Thomas Dworetzky, Contributing Reporter | December 10, 2018
MRI
A new VR app enables patients to
experience MR procedures anywhere and
may help reduce associated claustrophobia
MR is a great tool, but the need to stay still in a tight space for a relatively long time can make it a challenge for some patients.

Now, a new virtual reality application developed by the University of Michigan's department of radiology and the Duderstadt Center’s Emerging Technologies Group lets those awaiting a scan “experience” the procedure anywhere – and in the process, helps them prepare in advance to ease tension and reduce fears.

“The app allows patients to fully experience the sensation of being inside of a scanner,” Daniel Fessahazion, associate director of the Emerging Technologies Group, said in a UM report on the application. “As a patient turns their head or moves their body, they can see the room around them while the system detects their motion and provides them with the illusion that they are inside the MR.”

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The researchers observed that there is often a need for such desensitization after having to stop scans prematurely for about 1.6 percent of patients due to claustrophobia or discomfort, finding that a significant proportion required conscious sedation to undergo the entire scanning procedure, according to their report in the journal, Tomography.

They also noted that nurse-assisted conscious sedation could range from 3.8 percent to as much as 14.3 percent of procedures in some institutions.

“The goal is to decrease [the patient's] anxiety about the procedure,” said Dr. Richard K.J. Brown, a professor of radiology at the University of Michigan, and project leader.

Using the application can transform an area in one’s home into a virtual MR scanning room, complete with sounds of the device recorded on-site during a real-life simulation in order to make the experience as lifelike as possible.

The developers also utilized programming tools to create video games to help patients understand scanning protocols in a fun way. In addition to reducing anxiety around procedures, the hope is that the app will help to cut down the need for sedation.

“We have a diverse patient population here at Michigan Medicine, and we want to make sure that all of our patients can benefit from the technology we create,” Brown explained, adding that “our team would like to eventually create versions of this tool in several languages, ensuring that all of our patients can benefit from this cutting-edge technology. The future use of this app opens a lot of doors.”

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