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VR and AI technologies enable patients to shape their own cancer treatment

5th Sep 2018

Velindre Cancer Centre’s Bevan Exemplar project is pioneering new ways to engage with patients and staff digitally

Velindre Cancer Centre is experimenting with emerging technologies Virtual Reality (VR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) through the Bevan Exemplar programme. The Bevan Exemplar project aims to revolutionise the way that cancer patients engage with their treatment and how the Velindre Cancer Centre trains its staff.

‘Feeling’ treatment first through VR

Velindre Cancer Centre is experimenting with VR technology to enable patients to ‘feel’ experiences before they have them. An example of this is in radiotherapy treatment – patients have an opportunity to become immersed in the radiotherapy room virtually before they experience it physically. VR technology will enable the patient to ‘feel’ the sensation of radiology before they commit to treatment, mitigating treatment anxiety.

This initiative is being rolled out to cancer patients using cheap and easily accessible technology such as Samsung tablets, and video booths broadcasting the immersive experiences are also being trialled within Velindre Cancer Centre itself. There is also a YouTube channel that will allow patients access to this and other types of media content in VR.

VR is also being employed in a number of innovative ways across Velindre, including educating staff through VR-broadcast lectures, staging immersive teaching experiences and using augmented reality to simulate real-life treatment scenarios. Data on staff responses will be gathered to assess the effectiveness of using digital technology to deliver training. 

Chatbots to tailor care to personality

Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology will be used by Velindre Cancer Centre to power a chatbot that can engage patients in their healthcare and treatment by scouring the web for information and responding to psychological cues such as tone of voice.

It is hoped that the virtual assistant will be able to provide useful healthcare information at the early stages of diagnosis and treatment that is free of clinical bias. Rather treatment conversations being led by clinicians, a chatbot will respond to the first-person narrative of the patient, providing high quality conversation prompted by timely questions.

Associate Director of Planning, Performance and Innovation, Phil Webb, explains:We hope that through our application of VR and AI we can alleviate treatment anxiety and enable patients to feel in control of their healthcare, by becoming better informed, more engaged and make better choices. Automation will also allow us to focus our resources where they can add most value in terms of cancer care and patient experience.”

The use of chatbots will enable Velindre Cancer Centre to triage patients more quickly, alleviating patient anxiety caused by waiting. The virtual assistant will also include a tonal analyser which can distinguish whether a patient is distressed or not and change the response during conversation accordingly to become more empathetic to user mood. The AI initiative is a collaboration between Pfizer, the Bevan Commission, Velindre Cancer Centre and IBM Watson, which powers the virtual assistant.

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