When you have time to Smell the Flowers

Most hospitals are functional- they aren’t designed to provide comfort. Admit a sick patient, treat her and discharge her. Thankfully hospitals brought in sterilisation by the late 1800s, but plain, white, infection-free rooms don’t exactly evoke a sense of joy in the people within their walls. A patient can generally endure this relatively hostile environment for a few days, maybe even for a month, without damaging their mental health. But what if their treatment takes longer?

Imagine being treated for months with an immune system so weak, stepping outside isn’t an option. Day by day the building you’re in seems less like a hospital and more like a prison. There are certain hospitals with natural lights which mimic sunlight helping their patients’ morale, recovery and reducing their stays. Some rooms may have large windows overlooking beautiful gardens, churches, temples, or a pathway filled with people outside. Yet none of these can substitute being outside. These solutions can’t replace taking a stroll by the river, battling your way through a busy market, or simply sitting on your front lawn and inhaling the scent of freshly mown grass. Virtual Reality can’t perfectly replicate these experiences, but it can certainly be a great substitute for them.

When we think of Virtual Reality in Healthcare we generally think of its use in surgery training, organ viewing, and education. No one talks about VR’s potential use in making a patient happier. Hospitals could use a VR experience in which the patient walks through a park. Scents can be incorporated into the experience to make it more ‘realistic’. The patient can ‘smell the flowers’ while enjoying this simulation of nature.  This relatively simple solution could have a highly therapeutic effect on patients who spend large amounts of time in treatment. The goal is to transport people to places they can’t go to in real life, be it a fantasy world in a virtual reality game or simply outside. A good VR experience is fun to use, a great one can affect emotions. VR can help patients experience the simple pleasures of life in spirit.

Nupur Jain