Tufts Medical Center Is Bringing Virtual Reality to Patient Care

Patients will be able to get a 360-degree preview before a medical procedure.

Tufts Medical Center photo provided to Boston Magazine

Tufts Medical Center photo provided to Boston Magazine

Patients often suffer a great deal of anxiety in the moments leading up to a procedure. But what if an individual could scope out the ER, meet her surgeon, and feel out her surroundings months before an appointment?

That scenario is becoming a virtual reality at Tufts Medical Center, where a team of physician assistants have enlisted local marketing firm Primacy to bring virtual reality (VR) to patient care. The technology will detail the pre-procedural process and show a 360-degree view of the medical facility and its staff, hopefully allaying patient fears before an appointment.

“The idea is to make sure patients are familiar with what they’re about to undergo,” says Carey Kimmelstiel, director of the Interventional Cardiology Center at Tufts. “It doesn’t have to be a scary process.”

Though still in its planning stages, the partnership between Tufts and Primacy will be specifically geared toward patient education. Doctors will use the VR technology to show pre-procedural consent, introduce relevant personnel, and explain medical equipment. Kimmelstiel says this process will be especially crucial to those undergoing treatment without anesthesia, and thus who will be completely aware of their surroundings during the procedure.

“It’s a work in progress, but the technology is truly astounding,” he says. “When you’re using it, you’re not limited to a screenshot—you can really get a feel for the space. We’ll be able to tell hesitant patients, ‘Go home at your leisure, take a look at this, and think about questions you might not have thought to ask earlier.'”

As of now, Tufts will be the first medical center in the country to employ 360-degree virtual reality in a patient-care setting. While there’s no set date to implement the program yet, Kimmelstiel says his team isn’t wasting any time.

“There’s nothing that will ever substitute for the face-to-face, clinician-patient interaction,” he notes. “But, as they say, an educated consumer is the best consumer. We want any removal of trepidation that can ease patient concerns and [facilitate] a more seamless interaction.”