Virtual Wembury in QE Intensive Care Unit

David Gregory-Kumar, BBC Midlands Today’s Science and Environmental correspondent visited the lab of EESE’s Human Interface Technologies Team this week to interview Professor Bob Stone on his research addressing the use of Virtual Reality scenes of nature in the Intensive Care Unit of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. 

Bob explained that, in collaboration with trauma and pain specialists at the QE, his VR team has, over the past 3 years, been reconstructing two scenes of nature based on real-world locations – Wembury Bay and Burrator in South Devon.  The work is based on US studies conducted in the 1980s, when it was found that hospital window views onto scenes of real nature had positive impacts on the health and recovery timelines of patients recovering from open surgery.  

The research being conducted by the HIT Team and the QE clinicians is approaching the end of its initial experimental stage, with 28 out of 30 patients having experienced the Virtual Wembury system as part of their stay in Intensive Care. 

Bob went on to comment that, although the feedback from patients and relatives, plus nursing and clinical staff has been very positive, there is an enormous amount of data to analyse before it will be possible to make confident statements about the impact of the VR “treatment” on such outcomes as improved sleep quality, reduction in episodes of delirium or the time to transfer patients to mainstream wards.

David Gregory-Kumar also experienced a more recent development of the Virtual Wembury system.  This version of the system is mounted behind a double-glazed window frame and is being designed as part of a research project to investigate how VR might be able to help the residents of elderly and dementia care homes.  By viewing the coastal and lakeside scenes, it is hoped that individuals will be able to recall and share their experiences about days gone by, including visits to the seaside and countryside.  In addition to the visual and sound effects, a basic scent delivery system is also being used, with the aim of increasing the “immersive” nature of the set-up and to exploit the potential healthcare effects of aromatherapy.

David, who is hosting the final stage of the BBC’s Dare to be Digital Roadshow at Birmingham’s Mailbox (weekend of 26 and 27 September), was also interested to hear about the interactive demonstrations the Team would be taking to the event.  As well as the VR healthcare research, the Team will be showing off their recent achievements in virtual heritage, including the HMS A7 submarine and 17th Century Anne wrecksite reconstructions, automated 3D reconstruction technologies for remote surveys using small drones, and a number of VR headset and Augmented Reality experiences.