Presenting patient stories as virtual reality experiences

Dr. Seema Marwaha

Award: Phoenix Project Fellowship (2016)

Co-Sponsor: Trillium Health Partners

  • Patient/family/caregiver voices
  • Virtual reality

Patient stories can play an important role in strengthening our healthcare system. They can improve patients’ engagement in their own care, facilitate communication between patients and providers, and teach providers to be mindful of the individual patient experience. That said, this can only happen if patient stories are used effectively.

In recent years, the medical community has had an increased interest in capturing patient stories. Unfortunately, the focus has been on how to capture stories instead of how to distribute them and evaluate their uptake. Other media production industries, such as film and advertising, place a greater emphasis on defining engagement strategies and performance metrics.

Seema is interested in understanding patient stories and how they live online. She wanted to use her fellowship to increase the influence of patients’ stories. She began with a literature review to see how patient voices have been studied and used in the past, in order to answer several questions: Who was profiled? What illnesses did they have? Who watched or listened to these stories? This helped her reflect on the ways that people might add to the growing body of patient narratives, especially using new technology. 

Seema decided to experiment with presenting patient stories as virtual reality experiences. She hoped that using this immersive medium would allow people to experience what patients see, hear, and feel. Once designed, she tested these experiences with students, doctors, medical professionals,  patients, and families. It was exciting to see that virtual reality could help them better understand how patients feel. 

Seema is hopeful that helping healthcare professionals reflect on patients’ experiences through the patient’s eyes might positively shape how these professionals make healthcare decisions in the future. Her project showed that we can use technology and innovation to increase empathy and compassion in medical teaching and direct patient care. It also helps us understand what makes content engaging and how to track its uptake and use.

Hear Dr. Seema Marwaha talk about her work