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Pioneering virtual reality healthcare in Morecambe Bay

A pioneering programme that helps improve the well-being of people who have chronic or ongoing breathing problems through virtual reality has been trialled in a South Cumbrian GP Practice and is now being rolled out further.

The use of virtual reality to help with the exercise programme for patients with chronic lung conditions was introduced and trialled as part of the Better Care Together strategy, and has been well-received amongst the patients who have used it. The success of the trial has led to the project now being rolled out across other areas.

As well as being able to take part in breathing exercises from the comfort of their own homes - helping to avoid visits to hospital or community facilities, the trailblazing use of new technology also allows health professionals to securely monitor the exercise programme people are using, ensuring that they can be tailored as required.

Dr Muhammad Farhan Amin of the Burnett Edgar Medical Centre on Walney Island in Barrow-in-Furness has introduced the technology as a way of solving two problems.

“Firstly many people who need to be on this programme are not able to access it, there is a national shortage of the physiotherapy staff needed to put the sessions on. And secondly – if people do some breathing exercises in their own homes – it is impossible for health professionals to monitor them.

Barrow-in-Furness has many people with chronic lung conditions and the best treatment is to take part in a pulmonary rehabilitation programme. Usually this involves going to the hospital outpatient department, but using the latest technology we just need a mobile phone and a virtual reality headset; and the person is transported to a ‘beach’ where they can interact in an exercise class, get educational help, receive breathing strategies and nutritional advice.

Because the phone is linked to the internet – the specially-developed application can both tailor the breathing exercises for each person and also send the breathing exercise record back to the health professional that is supporting the patient.

It`s exciting – the next stages are to train other health professionals in the area – and continue to develop this technology.

We want to make the exercise classes really interactive so that people taking part in them can communicate with other patients who are also taking part in the breathing exercises in their own homes – it could become a virtual reality breathing exercise club!”