A virtual reality pulmonary rehabilitation program is now being offered in the UK to people with COPD to overcome waiting times and access problems for clinic-based rehab.
A two-year program will be offered to around 1,000 COPD patients by the NHS as an additional service to help reduce waiting times for traditional pulmonary rehab classes. Patients who choose this option will get faster access to rehabilitation, being able to start treatment within one week of their referral.
The virtual rehab service will help those living in rural regions who struggle to attend regular rehabilitation appointments in person because of poor public transport, says Dr Satpal Shekhawat, Medical Director at the NHS North Lincolnshire.
GP practices will give patients a kit consisting of a virtual reality headset, wearable sensor and mobile data hotspot so they have everything needed to take part in pulmonary rehab exercises at home.
The immersive app places patients in a sunny beachside training environment, where a digital instructor leads them through the exercises. Patients should complete the exercises for 30 minutes at least five days a week for six weeks.
This is the first time a virtual rehab program has been rolled out at scale across a whole NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Dr Shekhawat told the limbic.
It follows a successful pilot trial led by Dr Farhan Amin, a GP in Barrow-in-Furness who invented and oversaw the development of the virtual rehab app.
An evaluation of the pilot, conducted by a team at the Manchester Metropolitan University led by Dr Timothy Jung, showed that 90% of 35 patients were compliant with the virtual reality pulmonary rehabilitation, mainly because of the flexibility to exercise at any time of the day in their own home. In contrast, compliance with conventional pulmonary rehabilitation was noted at 42% in the trial results.
Patients reported significant improvements in dyspnoea, fatigue, physical ability and psychological well-being, and thereby improved health-related quality of life.
Patients also reported significant improvements in confidence in terms of managing their condition. Most patients also reported significant improvements in confidence in terms of managing their condition, conducting daily activities, participating in social activities and managing their breathing.
Dr Jung’s team will also independently evaluate results from the current two-year program.