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Hoag Harnesses Virtual Reality

By Orange County Business Journal

Categories: Featured News
September 28, 2020

Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian launched a virtual reality program this month to support expectant mothers.

The pilot program, in partnership with Nashville-based BehaVR, aims to set expectations about pain management and teach mindfulness throughout pregnancy and postpartum care.

“Our mission is to provide compassionate care to all women at all life stages,” Dr. Allyson Brooks, director of Hoag Women’s Health Institute, told the Business Journal.

“With NurtureVR, we’re meeting these women where they are, and offering educational components and an immersive experience, in which they can tune out the chatter and discover self-fulfillment.”

Virtual reality technology not only provides a personalized experience; it has also been shown to increase the likelihood that patients remember and return to lessons learned.

“Virtual reality is a powerful tool because it harnesses the power of all four learning systems—cognitive, experiential, emotional and behavioral,” said Robert Louis, chief of neurosurgery and the Empower360 Endowed Chair at Hoag.

The program is being offered at Hoag’s Newport Beach and Irvine hospitals.

Concept to Creation

Louis started using virtual reality as a tool to improve brain surgeries in 2014.

One day, a patient asked if he could use virtual reality to fly into his own brain, in order to see and understand his condition. Thus, Louis began using virtual reality as a tool for patient engagement.

Subsequent studies conducted at Hoag showed virtual reality improved patients’ level of understanding and satisfaction. Most importantly, Louis said the hospital’s attrition rates—the amount of patients that leave the health system annually—fell from 35% to 4%.

When Louis began toying with the idea of virtual reality for expectant mothers, he enlisted Brooks to provide a perspective on women’s health.

Brooks helped define the scope of the experience, which extends from pregnancy to postpartum, to address challenges that arise during and after pregnancy.

Postpartum care is an important part of the equation because this period is often fraught with every type of emotion and high levels of fatigue, Brooks said.

In fact, Hoag Hospital treats about 800 to 900 women, or 10% of its new mothers, each year for some form of perinatal mood or anxiety disorder.

Nationwide, Next

Following the NurtureVR pilot program, Hoag Hospital plans to roll the program out nationwide as early as November.

It’s the first of several virtual reality programs to come, with others in the works that address back pain and spinal care, Louis said.

“Many hospitals have done studies using virtual reality, but Hoag wants to be the first hospital system in the nation to widely distribute virtual reality programs across numerous specialties,” he said.

“We want to be the category king of extended reality.”

The VR program is one of several notable advances to Hoag’s maternity services in recent years. Hoag Hospital Irvine will open the Fudge Family Birthing Suites, which includes 12 birthing suites, two C-section operating rooms and a neonatal intensive care unit, in December.

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