"In My Steps" simulates cancer patient's fatigue to create physician's awareness

Reston 08 October 1998 "If only the doctor could feel what I'm going through", must be the heart's desire of many a cancer patient. It seems that virtual reality has made this dream come true. Medical Consumer Media has developed a fully immersive virtual environment to simulate the patient's experience when faced with the challenge to perform everyday tasks and to manipulate simple objects in his home. The system has been designed in a way to complicate every single movement of the user in the virtual house so that he actually can live through the daily trials and the extreme fatigue of a patient under cancer treatment. "In My Steps" is offering health providers a unique chance to gain a deeper insight in the effects of fatigue due to the disease and to reconsider their treatment programmes.

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"If only the doctor could feel what I'm going through", must be the heart's desire of many a cancer patient. It seems that virtual reality has made this dream come true. Medical Consumer Media has developed a fully immersive virtual environment to simulate the patient's experience when faced with the challenge to perform everyday tasks and to manipulate simple objects in his home. The system has been designed in a way to complicate every single movement of the user in the virtual house so that he actually can live through the daily trials and the extreme fatigue of a patient under cancer treatment. "In My Steps" is offering health providers a unique chance to gain a deeper insight in the effects of fatigue due to the disease and to reconsider their treatment programmes.

Statistics from the Fatigue Coalition show that over 75% of the cancer patients in the United States are troubled by chronic fatigue. Dr. Jonathan Merrill, Chief Executive Officer of the Medical Consumer Media Company, which is based in Virginia, decided to make physicians aware of this problem by trying to bridge the psychological gap between the doctor's and the patient's experience. After extensive research and inquiries with both cancer sufferers and health providers, Dr. Merrill created a machine which simulates the debilitating effects of chemotherapy and anaemia, as endured by cancer patients. As a result, doctors are able to use the device as a gauge to adapt treatment plans by avoiding methods causing extreme fatigue.

The virtual reality simulation of "In My Steps" is created through a headmounted display equipped with small speakers. The user is sitting in a special chair and wears gloves with a spatial tracking device. The headgear and gloves are electronically connected to a computer. Through a viewer in the headgear, the health provider is transported into richly simulated rooms and can walk through the virtual home with the help of a stepping device in front of the chair, consisting of two pedals. The software programme impairs the movements of the user to recreate the effects of fatigue. Various audio cues invite the physician to execute daily tasks and to interact with objects, like a toaster, a telephone or an answering machine. Gradually, the user experiences the physical, functional and psychological ordeal of the patient.

Initially, "In My Steps" has been designed for Ortho Biotech, a biotechnology subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. Since then, about eight-hundred physicians have tested the simulation. After the experience, a number of forty percent was prepared to adjust the treatment programme in accordance to the physical condition of the patient. At present, "In My Steps" is touring in Greece. Two trucks are now travelling the country, each of them equipped with four systems to promote and market the product to the targeted public of health providers. As such, Virtual Reality teaches a biblical lesson to the medical world as not to impose burdens upon your fellow-man which you cannot bear yourself. CNN Interactive has served as a news source for this article.


Leslie Versweyveld

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