Designing and Testing a Virtual Reality Intervention for Improving Patient Mental Health and Wellbeing in Secondary Care

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by UHI)

Abstract

Virtual reality (VR) research has shown it has the potential to improve mental health treatments in healthcare. Its immersive nature has demonstrated a compatibility with existing treatments for conditions such as anxiety. Besides research focusing on specific conditions, there is little research that looks at VRs influence on general wellbeing. While VR research has increased in recent years, there is still a need for research that is not confined to the lab and to explore how VR may be integrated into existing healthcare settings.
The research presented in this thesis takes you on a journey, starting with the idea of using VR to improve mental health and wellbeing. It follows a process of evidence gathering, software design and user testing which together lead to an eventual VR intervention in a secondary care setting.
This thesis works towards four key objectives:
A) Design and implement a VR intervention.
B) Explore how people interact with a specific VR experience.
C) Determine whether the VR experience has an influence on mental health and wellbeing.
D) Explore whether presence may affect VRs potential to improve mental health and wellbeing.
Elements of co-production are featured in a methodology that features focus groups, stakeholder consultation and user testing. Together these ethodologies inform the design of a VR intervention to be tested in a secondary care setting. Whilst designing the VR software for used in testing, I engage in digital creative practice to document what I learned from designing and implementing a VR
intervention. A diabetes clinic was used for the intervention setting. Anxiety and depression are linked to living with diabetes. With this in mind the study looks to determine whether VR can have a positive influence on the mental health and wellbeing of diabetes patients attending a diabetes clinic. Patient case studies are carried out to determine this. Whilst the number of cases presented in the research isn’t enough to draw definitive conclusions on the interventions influence on mental health and wellbeing, the trends detected point to a positive
influence on mental health and wellbeing. Future research should explore further areas of secondary care, explore the relationship between mindfulness and virtual presence and prepare guidelines for new VR users. This research demonstrates a compatibility between secondary care and VR in the context of patient mental health and wellbeing.
Date of Award16 Apr 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of the Highlands and Islands
SponsorsNHS Highland
SupervisorMark Grindle (Supervisor) & Hugo C van Woerden (Supervisor)

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