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VR Program Allows Penn Medicine Cancer Patients To Observe Sunrise from Waiting Rooms

Hospital waiting rooms are bleak surroundings that patients find difficult to be motivated within. Penn Medicine aims to address the problem with the incorporation of virtual reality. The latest VR program meant for its Radiation Oncology Department, the hospital aims to carry patients to different dimensions. Patients will be able to use VR tech to watch vivid sunrises from a dock, as opposed to a usually closed environment.


The Perelman Center’s Roberts Proton Therapy waiting room, situated at 3400 Civic Center Blvd, is playing host to a VR awareness program. It is an 8-minute long voice-assisted meditation experience, as an alternative to TV or magazines. The deeply engaging audio-visual setup helps patients to explore a calm, virtual lake environment. James Metz,  Chair of Radiation Oncology, Penn Medicine, elaborated that the experience was designed to help patients get rid of stress, and focus on their recovery.

Following the August launch, the program has witnessed expansion, providing various private booths and VR headsets to ensure a distraction-free environment for patients and family members.

The blend of patient care with meditation methods is inspired by William P. Levin’s personal encounters. Levin, who the clinical associate professor of radiation oncology, stated that meditation aided in better breathing and drove down stress. He is convinced that medication can actually help patients reduce stress.

Levin considers mindfulness meditation as a ray of light for patients, who are facing the darkest experiences of their lives. He stressed that patients and their family members both face difficulties. He remarked that since the start of the program, the response of patients has been encouraging.

According to Fern Nibauer-Cohen, director of patient engagement and business development, department of radiation oncology, reveals that patients remarked about feeling happy and peaceful. Patients clearly favoured the stress-relieving VR experience, compared to the restrictive waiting room.

But the waiting room for cancer patients is not the only place where patients can relieve their stress. A virtual reality station was installed at the physicians’ clinic, to help the professionals rejuvenate, relax and prevent physical burnout. The technology has been utilised to help patients get a walkthrough of the radiation oncology department facilities.

A filmmaker cancer patient helped to develop a VR tour of the department, in association with the department. With a phone and a Google Cardboard, patients can witness the 360-degree tour, which will launch later this month. Patients can even view an animated feature that exhibits just how cancer cells are annihilated through radiation therapy.

Plans of expansion for the mindfulness program are in place, to be implemented by next year. Newer VR program schedules to give a greater range of immersive environments for the patients to experience. In the future, other Penn Medicine ancillary centres might get the same facility, resulting in an increasingly reciprocative VR experience.

Levin believes that beyond helping patients in the waiting room, the VR mindfulness experience has greater potential. He imagines that even bedridden patients can travel the world through VR.

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