Virtual reality could be used to treat burned out medics, study finds

Virtual reality could be used to treat burned-out medics: Staff report feeling de-stressed after being immersed in computer simulated woodland

  • Medics who watch nature through a VR headset saw stress levels drop 40%
  • US study suggests VR simulations can reduce medic short-term stress levels
  • Experts have warned burnout among NHS staff is at ’emergency’ levels










Immersing frontline health workers in a computer simulated woodland can reduce their stress levels, researchers have found.

Medics shown scenic forest displays on a virtual reality headset as part of a US study reported a 40 per cent drop in stress immediately afterwards.

They were able to watch the sun through the trees, admire the forest foliage and listen to the sounds of birds chirping and leaves rustling.

The experience only lasted three minutes.

Ohio University researchers said it could be a cheap and novel technique to help burned-out health staff after two years of battling Covid.

Creative ways to provide quick and accessible support to medics are needed ‘now more than ever’, the team said.

Previous studies have shown being exposed to nature can reduce heart rate, blood pressure and the stress hormone cortisol.

And studies have found that VR can help treat mental health disorders, including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction – but it usually requires hours of immersion.

Ohio University researchers recruited 102 frontline workers from three Covid units in the US to watch a three-minute 360-degree video of a ‘lush, green nature preserve’ through a VR headset to ‘promote relaxation and peace’. Participants said their stress level was 5.5, on average, before watching the video. But this fell to 3.3, on average, after watching the video. Pictured: Bodnant Garden National Trust

To determine whether virtual reality can provide similar psychological support to health staff, the team tested whether shorter experiences with VR would work.

They recruited 102 frontline workers from three Covid units in the US as part of the study published in PLOS One.

The medics watched a three-minute 360-degree video of a ‘lush, green nature preserve’ through a VR headset to ‘promote relaxation and peace’.

This involved putting on a head-mounted display that showed the outdoor location in 3D, with participants able to turn their head and body and see the space as if they were actually there.

The medics self-reported their stress level on a scale of one to 10 before and after the activity, with one representing not stressed at all and 10 equating to extremely stressed.

Participants said their stress level was 5.5, on average, before watching the video. But this fell to 3.3 after the experience.

And the proportion of medics who had high stress levels β€” above 6.8 β€” fell from 32.4 per cent before watching the video to 3.9 per cent after the VR activity.

The finding applied to all participants, regardless of their age, gender, or prior experience with VR.

Viewing nature through VR is a ‘promising avenue’ for relieving stress among medics who have limited breaks and access to green outdoor spaces, the researchers said.

But they noted further research should involve a control group and monitor how the VR activity affects stress levels over time.

More than half of paramedics report suffering from burnout, study finds

More than 50 per cent of ambulance staff are suffering from burnout, a study has found.

A study of nearly 400 paramedics in England found a lack of support from managers and the public’s misuse of ambulance services were to blame.

The findings, published in the Journal of Paramedic Practice, said workers also cited involuntary overtime and a poor work-life balance as reasons for their poor mental health.

University of Huddersfield researchers said burnout poses a threat to staff retention and needs addressing.

Managers should increase their communication with staff and workers should be given better access to counseling.

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