Patients offered custom virtual reality experiences to help prepare them for surgery

Communications TeamNews

Computer generated image of patient with checklist

Patients preparing for planned surgery at Hull Royal Infirmary and Castle Hill Hospital will be given on-demand access to virtual reality (VR) education resources.

The content has been designed to support patients in the run-up to their surgery and to speed up their postoperative recovery.

The initiative, My Pre-op Assistant, is predicted to reduce the number of last-minute cancellations, improve patient flow through the hospital, and subsequently reduce elective surgery wait times across the Trust.

My Pre-op Assistant is also being made available to NHS Trusts in other regions on request.

A novel approach to immersive, on-demand education

Made possible through grant funding from the NHS Transformation Directorate, the VR experiences feature a series of immersive spaces, including home and hospital settings, which patients navigate through to familiarise themselves with what to expect and to discover the answers to frequently asked questions.

These personalised resources are immersive and interactive, and have been created by patient engagement specialists Cognitant in partnership with patients and clinicians. Users choose which topics to learn about by clicking on different image icons – for example, selecting the car keys will deliver information about travelling to and from the hospital.

The programme designers consulted with Hull patients to learn more about the types of questions and concerns that they experienced in the run up to surgery, and to establish their preferred way of accessing and consuming multimedia content.

The content can be accessed via Meta Quest VR headsets whilst patients are at the hospital, and when they return home they can access My Pre-Op Assistant content via Cognitant’s Healthinote digital patient learning platform on any internet-enabled device

The VR experiences will now be provided to patients in conjunction with support from clinicians and physical education materials provided during their routine pre-surgery hospital appointments. The content can be shared with family members and carers as necessary.

Preventing operation cancellation this winter

According to internal hospital data, between April and July 2023, 1,380 operations were cancelled by patients at short notice (up to 2 days prior, and including ‘on the day’ cancellations) across Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. These cancellations can be disruptive and costly, exacerbating service backlogs and increasing operation wait times across the region.

If a patient does not follow the required steps in their preparation programme (such as adjusting their medication routine, stopping smoking, or fasting) it’s much more likely that their operation will have to be cancelled and rescheduled. Patients have also been known to cancel or fail to attend their own appointments because they don’t feel adequately prepared for surgery.

However, by improving the accessibility and quality of the education resources provided to patients in the pre-operative period, the incidence of poor preparation and avoidable cancellations can be reduced.

Improving surgery outcomes for patients

61% of England’s working-age population find health information difficult to understand, and studies have found that 40% to 80% of the information given during appointments is forgotten immediately.

Previously, the preparation materials provided to patients in the run up to planned surgery was in the form of text-based leaflets: this restricted the accessibility and impact of the information.

By providing co-created, engaging digital learning materials such as My Pre-op Assistant that are easily accessible on demand, clinicians are able to feel more confident that their patients are equipped with the necessary knowledge to improve their pre- and post-surgery health outcomes.

Dr Dave Wright, Consultant Anaesthetist at Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and Director of Simulation at Hull Institute of Learning and Simulation (HILS) said:

“Having this new technology as an option for our patients is incredibly valuable. It creates an engaging, memorable experience that helps patients understand, evaluate and retain information and uses a visual, interactive format which some patients find easier to use than traditional written instructions.

“We understand that preparing for surgery can sometimes be an overwhelming experience, which is why we’re also making these immersive experiences available for patients to access, via the internet, at home where family and loved ones can also help them prepare for surgery.

“Hull Hospitals is a busy acute healthcare provider in the Yorkshire region, so not only can short notice cancellations have a big impact on patient waiting times but they can also be upsetting for patients who may have been waiting for some months to be seen. We’re looking forward to seeing the positive impact this new programme will have on waiting time reduction and, more importantly, on the experience of our patients preparing for surgery.”

Dr Tim Ringrose, co-founder and CEO at Cognitant said:

 “This is a great example of an NHS provider working hard to bring their waiting times down and improve experiences and outcomes for patients. We are pleased to be able to showcase how personalised experiences like this play an important role in improving the efficiency of NHS resources while also improving the experience for patients.

“We co-created the My Pre-op Assistant immersive experience with patients and clinicians at Hull, to meet their needs, and ensure it was inclusive, accessible and engaging. We’re looking forward to seeing the continued impact of the solution for the benefit of patients, clinicians and the NHS”.