Thrive by IU Health

September 21, 2022

The (virtual) reality of chemotherapy

IU Health North Hospital

The (virtual) reality of chemotherapy

Chemotherapy infusions can last anywhere from five minutes to eight or more hours –a long time to sit still during what can be an uncomfortable treatment session.

To help relieve some of that distress, the Indiana University Health Joe and Shelly Schwarz Cancer Center at IU Health North Hospital is exploring the usage of virtual reality (VR) as a distraction intervention for patients undergoing chemotherapy and other infusion treatments. VR devices allow patients to “visit” faraway places, play games or watch television shows, movies and concerts.

Support from IU Health Foundation donors helped the center purchase four pairs of VR sets, and patients began testing the devices just last month.

“With VR, our patients can escape the sterile chemotherapy room for anywhere in the world,” said Ann Bredensteiner, manager of Integrative Health and Volunteers at IU Health North Hospital, and brainchild behind the application for VR funding. "Maybe it’s for the calming sounds of the rainforest, a sunny beach or lush green landscape—wherever they choose, it helps distract them and pass the time.”

Ann Bredensteiner
Ann Bredensteiner, manager of Integrative Health and Volunteers at IU Health North Hospital

Research shows that patients who have access to VR during chemo sessions have an altered perception of time and a reduction in stress and anxiety.

“The opportunities for this technology in soothing our patients are endless,” said Bredensteiner.

Originally planned to launch in 2020, the introduction of VR was derailed by pandemic hygiene policies and visitor limitations, including the volunteers who were going to teach patients how to use the headsets.

Now, two years later, Bredensteiner and her team are excited to see this technology in action.

With additional funding, they hope to secure a VR set for every chemo bay at Schwarz Cancer Center. To reach this goal, the center needs 18 additional headsets. Each cost roughly $400.

C.A.R.E VR headset

Donor generosity could also help fund a full-time technology team member who can manage VR and be on hand to assist every patient during infusion treatments.

“With donor support, we will be able to provide even more comfort to every patient in our infusion bays,” said Bredensteiner. “The more support we have, the more patients we can help momentarily escape the reality of chemotherapy and their diagnosis.”

If you’d like to support advancements in technology at the Joe and Shelly Schwarz Cancer Center at IU Health North Hospital, contact IU Health Foundation Senior Development Officer Leigh Ann Erickson at 317.373.0142.