New project to explore nurse-moderated social VR experience for hemodialysis patients

Penn Nursing, with partners from the Annenberg Virtual Reality ColLABorative and New York University's Rory Meyers College of Nursing, have been awarded 2023 grant from the Hillman Emergent Innovation: Serious Illness and End of Life program to study the use of social virtual reality (VR) in enhancing the treatment experience and reducing loneliness in people undergoing hemodialysis. This grant is awarded by The Rita and Alex Hillman Foundation.

Hemodialysis is a life-saving treatment for people experiencing end stage kidney disease. Treatments are typically three times a week and each session lasts three to four hours. The experience can be isolating and so uncomfortable that patients skip future sessions, which can rapidly worsen their condition. This $50,000 pilot study testing social VR during hemodialysis uses low cost, off-the-shelf solutions to remove the environment that patients find dull and replace it with a more stimulating one.

Led by Penn Nursing's Lea Ann Matura, PhD, RN, CRNP, FAAN, Associate Professor of Nursing and Vice Chair of the Department of Biobehavioral Health Sciences, the study will connect dialysis patients in outpatient centers across Philadelphia in an immersive, realistic VR film theater. The project will explore a new nurse-moderated, social VR experience to decrease isolation and increase health literacy and adherence to treatment in marginalized communities. The study begins in 2024 and runs for 18 months.

Social VR is a contrast to depersonalized care. It can remove the environment that patients find dull and replace it with a more stimulating one. VR may promote self-care agency by offering choices in how they spend their time during treatment sessions. VR compels an understanding of the needs and preferences of patients and lends itself to multidisciplinary integration providing enhanced holistic care. It also focuses on caring for the patient rather than treating a disease."

Lea Ann Matura, PhD, RN, CRNP, FAAN, Penn Nursing

Co-investigators include Penn Nursing's Subhash Aryal, PhD, MS, Director, BECCA Lab & Research Associate Professor; Linda Ruggiero, PhD, BSN, BS, RN-BC , Clinical Nurse at Penn Medicine; Maya Clark-Cutaia, PhD, RN, MSN, Assistant Professor, NYU College of Nursing; and Kyle Cassidy, BS, a digital design specialist at the Annenberg School for Communication.

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