Italian hospital utilising VR to combat clinician stress during COVID-19 crisis

The headsets use “teleportation” to place users in periods of their life when they were happy.
By Sophie Porter
01:53 am

Credit: Limbix

Limbix Italia have supplied Schiavonia COVID Hospital with VR headsets in a bid to improve the psychological and emotional wellbeing of its staff. The virtual reality hardware uses visualisation and guided breathing techniques to reduce stress and anxiety in healthcare workers and support staff working long shifts treating patients suffering from coronavirus.

The new virtual healthcare system was facilitated by the ULSS 6 Euganea – the Veneto region’s health service that manages healthcare for those in the province of Padua – and coordinated by the Ospedali Riuniti Padova Sud. The software itself was created in collaboration with the Universities of Harvard, Yale and Stanford.


The software uses positive memories, and the associated feelings of happiness, to combat the anxiety and emotional fatigue of working in such a stressful, high-pressure environment. The practitioners and nurses seeking psychological support will undergo a short interview with another clinician, who will be present throughout the process. Then, following a guided breathing exercise, the patient will be ‘teleported’ to a place they associate with a significant moment in their life where they felt happy.

The VR technology transmits footage of the place in question from 3D imaging libraries such as Google Street View, enabling users to feel as though they are there. They then discuss their chosen memory with the attendant clinician, who can also see the footage on a tablet, allowing them to relive the experience and transpose the positive feelings to their current environment.


Italy has experienced the highest number of COVID-19 casualties in Europe, amounting to 25,085 at time of writing. The country has suffered from hospital overcrowding, as reinforced during a recent webinar, with reports of insufficient breathing equipment and urgent training to prepare to familiarise staff with ICU equipment.

There have been many tech-enabled solutions presented to try and combat an increase in stress and anxiety during the coronavirus outbreak, particularly surrounding increased availability of telehealth.


The general manager of ULSS 6 Euganea, Domenico Scibetta, said: “Offering our staff on the front-line against COVID-19 new psychological tools to combat fatigue and burnout is one more weapon that we gladly put at their disposal. Virtual reality for health and well-being among MDs and nurses is a technological world premiere that others can take as an example of good practice.”

“It’s the first time that this sort of technique has been used in Italy,” said creator of the programme, Alessandro De Carlo. “It starts with a preliminary interview and then two sessions follow. In the first we perform a diaphragmatic breathing exercise and the visor shows the breath of the person which, in this way, helps to better master the exercise. Then it moves to the second session which takes its cue from the ‘free good things’ technique, by which the person focuses on a moment in their life which had an important outcome, leaving one filled with the positive sensations that the memory succeeding in evoking.”


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