Collaborating with neuropsychologists’ at Melbourne-based virtual reality (VR) developers Liminal, Australian health insurer Medibank has launched a VR experience for Australian hospitals on Google Daydream View VR headset platform.

The “Joy” experience, which was entirely designed in 3D using Google’s Tilt Brush, provides hospital patients with a virtual experience that attempts to relieve loneliness and isolation, particularly for long-stay patients with restricted mobility.

From their hospital bed, users are transported to a computer-generated setting in a natural Australian landscape, around a campfire with a group of people and a sleeping dog. They can then choose from a selection of stories to be read to them by the attendee within the experience.

For the Joy experience, Liminal also encompassed several elements of neuroscience and neuropsychology to benefit the user on a deeper level. Rather than just a random setting, the elements that make up Joy’s generated environment were chosen based on both the psychological and physical effects they could have on the user, such as reducing anxiety, lowering blood pressure, and activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Sami Yamin, a clinical neuropsychologist and, neuroscientist who works as head of research at Liminal, says,

We really had to think about what was reasonable for long-stay hospital patients to be able to do…something which was relatively passive but still gave the sense of community. So if someone had a spinal injury, and had had very little movement in their neck or below the neck, they’d still be able to enjoy the experience.

Sami said using the Google platform was really important to them because of the fact that it’s the best mobile platform that’s available at this point in time, and added,

The Pixel phone has an amazing resolution, it has a lot of the power of the corded devices. Portability was a really big issue for us, so having something that was tethered was not an option. Room-based tracking would have been far too hard to set up. [Google Daydream View] just kind of made sense to us.

According to ACA Research, three in five patients (59 percent) says they feel disconnected from loved ones, and 57 percent feel isolated, despite being surrounded by other patients, visitors and hospital staff. Australians who had been hospitalized for an extended time felt loneliness that was particularly prevalent during a hospital stay.

As a solution, Joy will be available in select partner hospitals across the country in time for Christmas, a time when many hospital patients can experience intense loneliness and disconnection during the festive season. Medibank and Liminal are taking the Joy experience to six hospitals this weekend before a nationwide roll out.

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