MBRU students testing VR technology for patients. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Some patients in Dubai are soon likely to put on Virtual Reality (VR) goggles when they undergo medical procedures to distract themselves and tackle their pain and anxiety.

Dubai Health, the first integrated academic health system in Dubai, on Wednesday said it is embracing VR technology to improve patient care across its hospitals and healthcare centres.

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“This initiative kicks off with a study and implementation programme at the Thalassemia Centre, exploring the use of VR technology to reduce anxiety and pain during cannulation (needle insertion) procedures for thalassemia patients,” the authority said in a press release.

The study, the first of its kind for this specific patient group in Dubai, holds promise for a more comfortable and positive healthcare experience.

Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBRU), which leads the Learning and Discovery missions of Dubai Health, will conduct and document the study. Unlike prior studies that primarily relied on subjective experiences, this novel approach will incorporate objective measurements such as eye movement tracking and heart rate to assess the effectiveness of VR technology, marking a significant advancement in medical discovery.

Dr Fatheya Abbas Al Khaja, director of the Thalassemia Centre, expressed her profound optimism for the initiative, stating, “The application of VR technology at the Thalassemia Centre has the potential to transform the experience for patients undergoing cannulation procedures. Throughout my years at the Thalassemia Centre, we have explored numerous modalities to alleviate the pain of our patients. This programme epitomises our Patient First promise to provide a more comfortable and anxiety-free experience, not just for the patients, but also for their families who witness this process. We are eagerly anticipating the results of this study.”

Separate from the MBRU study, the selected VR technology had been tested extensively. It demonstrated clinically effective results in 14 published and 30 ongoing studies, providing a solid foundation for its use in improving patient experiences.

Expansion to hospitals

Dubai Health said this programme marks the first phase of integrating VR technology across its hospitals and healthcare centres, with plans to extend its application into medical procedures at Al Jalila Children’s Hospital and Latifa Hospital.

Beyond immediate application at the Thalassemia Centre, the programme also focuses on developing novel VR environments and experiences tailored to the local needs of patients in Dubai. The long-term vision is to develop future iterations of AI-powered VR technology to further personalise the patient experience, a collaborative effort engaging both MBRU students and our clinical staff.

“This programme is the first of many to showcase how digital solutions can improve patient care within Dubai Health,” said Dr Yacine Hadijat, Associate Professor of Innovation in Health Science and Digital Health at MBRU’s College of Medicine.

Tech-enabled solutions

“One of the inherent advantages of our integrated academic health system is the ability to cultivate a continuous cycle of improvement within our care, learning and discovery missions. By exploring digital innovations, such as VR technology, we are simultaneously training future healthcare professionals to champion patient-centred care and contribute toward the medical discovery of tech-enabled healthcare solutions. This multifaceted approach holds immense promise to transform the patient journey for countless individuals.”

By spearheading such initiatives, Dubai Health said it remains at the forefront of healthcare innovation, reaffirming its commitment to delivering patient-centred care and advancing the standard of medical excellence in the region.