A young man doing physical therapy in hospital while wearing a virtual reality headset.

Virtual reality therapy for major trauma at Tooting hospital

Virtual reality headsets during physiotherapy for major-trauma patients has been being trialed at London’s largest hospital.

St George’s Hospital, Tooting is using the technology to rehabilitate patients who have experienced major trauma in a one-of-a-kind form of therapy.

Major trauma is defined by National Institute for Health and Care Excellence as ‘an injury or combination of injuries that are life-threatening and could be life changing because it may result in long-term disability’.

Major trauma patients like Jack Fowler-Thick, 18, who suffered injuries in a motorbike collision, enjoy the therapy. He said: “I look forward to this part of the day the best.

“No one wants to end up in hospital, and this makes me forget that I’m here.”

In order to access the personalised games including archery and boxing the patients don a headset worn over the eyes.

Around 50 patients have participated in the trial and the physiotherapists report positive feedback.

Becky Perry who became injured in a freak accident on her horse said: “I definitely think other patients would benefit, I’d recommend it to anyone.

“The care I’ve received here has been fantastic, I’m so glad I came to St George’s.”

Perry was led through a physio session by trauma physiotherapist Beth Kenny where she moved her arms to simulate picking apples from a tree.

She said: “You forget that you’re doing it. The woman in the bed opposite me was laughing so much the other day, I must have looked so silly – but it really does help.”

Using virtual reality in a medical setting is certainly not unheard of, according to the Taiwan News the market for VR in healthcare was valued at around $757.9 million in 2022.

In 2016, Dr Shafi Ahmed conducted the first virtual reality surgery where he streamed his every move to be accessed all over the world in real time from the Royal London Hospital.

St George’s has previously implemented virtual reality in healthcare when, in 2019 it introduced VR headsets to be worn during wide awake surgery in order to relax nervous patients.

Prior to this, as far as trauma physiotherapists Beth Kenny and Elly Tebbutt are aware the technology has not been used and is not currently used in any other major trauma setting to rehabilitate patients.

St George’s opened a new Major Trauma Ward in August 2023.

The Tooting hospital is also the major trauma centre for the south west London and Surrey trauma network and covers a population of about 2.6 million and treats 150 patients for major trauma per month.

Featured image credit: St George’s, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals and Health Group

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