VR supports women who experience loss during pregnancy

Published: 13-Jul-2022

Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust uses Smileyscope virtual reality (VR) headset to support women who experience loss in the early pregnancy

Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and its official charity, CW+, have launched Eirene, a unique project which involves the use of a Smileyscope virtual reality (VR) headset to help support women who experience loss in the early stages of pregnancy.

Eirene was the winner of the hospital charity’s annual Nurses’ Call 2021 and was conceptualised by Natalie Nunes, consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology; and Lauren Trepte, a research midwife at West Middlesex University Hospital.

The project centres on providing women with a Smileyscope VR headset during their Manual Vacuum Aspiration (MVA) procedure with the view to lowering their pain score and lessening anxiety.

The innovative project, funded jointly with the Rosetrees Trust, is named after the Roman goddess of peace and aims to give women who experience an early miscarriage a sense of calm during an emotionally-distressing time.

The Smileyscope VR experience enables women to be immersed in a nature scene such as a beach or starry night, or an immersive breathing exercise accompanied by soothing music.

While using the headset the women can still hear the clinical team offering them support and helping them to focus their thoughts and concentrate on their breathing.

Trepte said: “Eirene is a project which is very dear to our hearts as we sadly meet women in the early stages of their pregnancy who have experienced a loss.

“Peace of mind through observing a scene or a guided mediation while undergoing a MVA procedure reduces anxiety and aids relaxation; it gives them an alternative view and the opportunity to meditate, while being supported by our staff, and hopefully improves their mental health outcomes.

“Since launching the project, I have found that women are very receptive to the use of the headsets and like being given the option of a holistic comfort measure alongside normal painkillers.

“While supporting women during the procedure, I have seen that they appear relaxed and calm and we hope Eirene continues to help promote and improve women’s health and wellbeing needs at times of discomfort and distress.”

Nunes added: “When the headsets are in use, it not only helps keep the women calm and gives them a more pleasant scene to observe, but it changes the entire atmosphere of the room, which further improves their experiences.

“Everyone lowers their voice; instruments are not dropped on the metal trolley with a clang and the focus shifts from just a successfully-completed procedure to the holistic and mindful care of the women.

“We also hope to reduce health inequalities as use is not dependent on someone’s command of the English language. Women for whom English is not their first language can still utilise the headsets and have the full experience that an English-speaking woman would have.”

The project has become part of the CW Innovation programme, a joint initiative between the trust and CW+ which identifies, tests, and evaluates new solutions that improve patient care, the patient experience, and the way the trust’s hospitals are run.

Chris Chaney, chief executive at CW+, said: “We are delighted that through the CW+ Nurses’ Call 2021, we have helped launch Eirene, which uses state-of-the-art technology to help alleviate pain and anxiety to improve women’s health and wellbeing.

“Eirene has now joined our extensive portfolio of CW Innovation projects and we remain committed to incorporating innovation into our thinking.

“It’s so important for staff to share ideas and that they are fully supported to bring them to fruition like the Eirene project, which is helping deliver better patient experience and care.”

This is the second project at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust that uses Smileyscope VR headsets, with the first involving charity, Thinking of Oscar, providing a headset for the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital play team.

This version uses games, educational experiences, and relaxing distraction content to distract, engage, or prepare paediatric patients for procedures.

“We are honoured to work with healthcare providers on Eirene at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust,” said Dr Evelyn Chan, chief executive and co-founder of Smileyscope.

“Collaborating with leading clinicians to reduce pain, anxiety, and support women during these challenging procedures is a tremendous opportunity.

“They share our commitment to innovation and working together to improve health outcomes, equity, and the patient experience.”

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