Michigan cancer center tries virtual reality on patients


A unique study is underway at a Michigan cancer center. They’re using virtual reality devices to calm patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

The study began in December at the Marie Yeager Cancer Center at Spectrum Health Lakeland in St. Joseph, Michigan.

“It’s a moment in time that they’re able to focus on something positive or relaxing,” says Dr. Barbara Schmidtman, manager of radiation oncology and ambulatory infusion.

Patients at the Marie Yeager Cancer Center have been using virtual reality, or VR, to relax while undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatments since 2016, and it’s made a difference.

“Once I saw how patients were reacting to this, it really fueled me from start to finish. I knew that i was onto something here,” says Brendon Beede, senior project manager for information security.

Brendon Beede, the ‘IT nerd’ as he refers to himself, says one patient said she would go to the beach every day before treatments to reduce her anxiety.

But on a day when it was too cold to go to the beach, Beede gave her the VR headset and took her to Hawaii.

“She spent an hour traveling all across Hawaii on beaches, parasailing, just all sorts of stuff. She took it off and she was like, ‘wow, that’s better than Xanax!’” says Brendon.

Patients can watch a basketball game from the sidelines or a football game from the fifty-yard line. But travel content is the most important, since many patients can’t go far during their time in treatment.

“You’re locked into your location for sometimes five weeks or greater. In chemotherapy regimes, they could be locked into their location for much longer. This really allows patients from a travel perspective to be able to see parts of the world that they haven’t had an opportunity to see,” says Dr. Schmidtman.

The study involves analyzing the blood pressure and baseline anxiety level in patients with, and then without the VR. Researchers hope their study will be published nationwide and impact other cancer centers.

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