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14.04.20

Capitalising on virtual reality to support mental healthcare

Content provided by Oxford VR, editorially reviewed by National Health Executive.

Oxford VR have published their latest white paper, which explores and evidences how clinical excellence and gamification technology is being utilised effectively to advance the capacity and treatment of mental health.

A spin-out from Oxford University, Oxford VR is a pioneer in evidence-based automated VR therapy and demonstrate in their newly available white paper, Game On: How VR therapy is making mental health treatment more engaging and more effective, the benefits it can have on mental health care.

Highlighting how clinical excellence and VR’s increasing ability to replicate real world experiences can drive user engagement in mental healthcare, the study aims to find potentially innovate solutions to tackle an area of patient care which sees high drop out rates.

The latest NHS Digital annual report on the ‘Improving Access to Psychological Therapies’ program showed 60% of all referrals that ended in 2018 did not ‘complete’ treatment. Given that the definition of treatment completion is having simply two sessions or more, the cited figure likely masks higher rates of actual mental healthcare dropout.

DOWNLOAD THE WHITE PAPER HERE

As the white paper explores, automated VR therapy doesn’t look or feel like traditional therapy. Powerful psychological science is filtered through the interpretive talents of clinicians, programmers, designers, artists and animators, who apply their skills to help ensure the treatments are engaging, imaginative and even enjoyable, promoting a greater likelihood of treatment completion among patients.

For example, the fear of heights simulation isn’t just about walking across bridges or looking over a ledge. It also asks patients to rescue a cat from a tree, paint a picture while standing on the edge of a balcony or even ride in a hot air balloon – elements which make the overall experience more engaging and less clinical in their general feel to patients.

Using virtual reality technology to treat severe mental health conditions has been a huge personal focus for Oxford VR’s co-founder, Daniel Freeman, who is also Professor of Clinical Psychology and NIHR Research Professor at the Department of Psychiatry, Oxford University.

Professor Freeman has spent most of the past two decades investigating this emerging technology’s potential and believes harnessing VR capabilities to automate and ‘gamify’ therapy, as he describes it, is key to improving clinical outcomes and reducing costs.

OVR fear of heights - cat activity

For example, the fear of heights simulation isn’t just about walking across bridges or looking over a ledge. It also asks patients to rescue a cat from a tree, paint a picture while standing on the edge of a balcony or even ride in a hot air balloon.
 

Barnaby Perks, co-founding CEO of Oxford VR, said: “If we really want to see transformative change in mental healthcare, we need to revolutionise how treatment is delivered and ensure adoption of innovative technologies which can address vast unmet needs.

“Automated VR therapy is an evidence-based treatment whose time has come.”

Oxford VR’s ‘Game On’ white paper examines how automating high-quality mental health care can see them delivered without any drift from protocol and without a therapist present, as the virtual coach can guide patients through the treatment. This would not only vastly increase capacity for patients being able to access care, but also ensuring those who did access the resources received first-rate care.

The use of an avatar coach in place of a flesh-and-blood clinician also offers a scalable benefit, in Oxford VR’s eyes, particularly given the mental healthcare environment operates in a patient-to-clinician equation which will always see the number of patients in need of care far outweighing the number of providers with the right credentials available to treat them.

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