• Virtual Destinations Improve Dental Patient Experience

    Virtual Destinations Improve Dental Patient Experience

    Imagine you are walking along a beach on a lovely day listening to the waves lapping and the birds calling.  As you continue along the coastal path feeling calm and relaxed you suddenly hear your dentist say, “Fine, all done, you can take the headset off now”.

    A team of researchers at the University of Plymouth, Exeter and Birmingham in England worked with a dental practice to find out if virtual reality encounters, such as walking on a beautiful beach could improve a patients experience during routine dental procedures such as fillings and tooth extractions.

    “The use of virtual reality in healthcare settings is on the rise but we need more rigorous evidence of whether it actually improves patient experiences.” – Dr. Karin Tanja-Dijkstra, lead author

    Patients who had agreed to take part in the study were randomly allocated to one of three conditions: 1) standard care; 2) a virtual walk around a beach (using a headset and handheld controller); or 3) a walk around an anonymous virtual reality city.  Results found that those who “walked” around the beach were less anxious, experienced less pain, and had more positive recollections of their treatment a week later, than those in the standard care condition.  These benefits were not found for those who walked around the virtual city.  It was suggested that walking around the virtual city and merely distracting the patients isn’t enough, the environment for a patient’s visit needs to be welcoming and relaxing.+

    Studies suggest that people are happiest and most relaxed when they are seaside.  It seems only natural to investigate whether that experience can be used to help people in potentially stressful healthcare contexts.*

    Our research demonstrates that under the right conditions, this technology can be used to help both patients and practitioners.  It would be interesting to apply this approach to other contexts in which people cannot easily access real nature such as the workplace or other healthcare situations.

    CDA Journal, Vol 45, September 2017

    *Dr. Mathew White, of University of Exeter’s Medical School

    +Dr. Sabine Pahl, of the University of Plymouth

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