Lung patients in North Lincolnshire have become the first in the UK to benefit from a pioneering virtual reality (VR) pulmonary rehabilitation programme offered for the first time on the NHS.

GP practices in the region are offering patients living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) a kit consisting of a VR headset, wearable sensor and mobile data hotspot so they can partake in rehab exercises from the comfort of their own home.

The immersive app places the wearer in a beachside environment, with training led by digital instructor.

NHS North Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) successfully submitted a bid to NHS England to fund the programme for people in North Lincolnshire living with COPD in late 2019.

The new service, delivered across the three Primary Care Networks in North Lincolnshire, is expected to provide an additional 501 pulmonary rehabilitation places a year.

Dr Satpal Shekhawat, medical director at NHS North Lincolnshire CCG, said: “I am confident that this will significantly improve quality of life for our COPD patients.

“Many parts of North Lincolnshire are rural and some are not well-served by public transport, so this programme will really help those who might otherwise struggle to attend a rehabilitation appointment in person.

AVR headset, wearable sensor and mobile data hotspot
The COPD kit consiss of a VR headset, wearable sensor and mobile data hotspot

Concept Health Technologies, a company specialising in medical virtual reality and artificial intelligence, developed the solution led by Dr Farhan Amin in 2017.

This is the first time the initiative has been rolled-out at scale.

Patients who choose this option will benefit from faster access to rehabilitation and will be able to start treatment within one week of their referral.

Evaluation from the pilot scheme showed that patient retention rates improved by up to 80% – boosting patients’ independence and reducing the need for hospital visits.

Dr Shekhawat added: “This is an additional service which will add significant capacity to deliver pulmonary rehabilitation for North Lincolnshire residents. We anticipate this will reduce waiting times and ultimately reduce the number of hospital admissions for people living with COPD.

“I am proud that we are truly bringing healthcare to our patients’ doorsteps.”

Virtual solutions

Virtual reality has become a popular tool for rehabilitation services in recent years, with the technology being used for various pain management and psychotherapy applications.

A recent survey from GlobalData forecast the use of VR in healthcare to increase steadily over the next 10 years as hardware becomes cheaper and software gets more sophisticated.

However, it predicted that augmented reality – which blends digital elements with real-world surroundings – would succeed VR as the more popular technology owing to its wider practicality within healthcare.