Posted on Jun 22, 2017

USF nursing researcher creates video game to improve patient health

USF nursing researcher creates video game to improve patient health

USF College of Nursing professor, John Clochesy, PhD, collaborates with engineers on virtual technology to help patients manage their own health.

Dr. Clochesy teamed up with researchers and engineers at University of Central Florida and Case Western University to design an interactive video game technology to help improve patient care.

“The virtual support technology helps patients and caregivers become members of the team that manages their own health,” said Dr. Clochesy, who is also the senior assistant dean of the PhD program at the USF College of Nursing. “Interactions with health care providers are sometimes difficult, but if we give people a chance to practice in the virtual world without putting themselves at risk, maybe they would do better. The technology allows people to experience, learn from that experience and take whatever they learn into the clinical setting.”

Dr. Clochesy and his team created several virtual support technologies. The most recent versions are being evaluated in two different randomized controlled trials.

For the first study, Dr. Clochesy teamed up with Vicki Loerzel PhD, associate professor at UCF, to create a virtual game to help older adults manage their cancer symptoms. The study helps cancer patients better manage chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. This trial, which studies 66 participants, will be completed in 2018.

This version of the virtual game helps older adults manage their cancer symptoms.

For the second study, Dr. Clochesy partnered with Ronald L. Hickman, Jr., PhD, associate professor at the Case Western Reserve University, to help educate caregivers of chronically critically ill patients. This trial aims to help caregivers make informed decisions about critically ill patients at the end of life. This study is planned to be completed in 2020.

This version of the game aims to educate caregivers of the chronically critically ill patients.

The virtual support is developed using an avatar-based decision support technology fit for various digital platforms and devices. The risk-free technology helps improve self-management of chronic illness and health outcomes.

“Patients can learn in a virtual reality focusing on real-life events,” Dr. Clochesy said. “The game goes through different situations in various locations and settings where patients and caregivers can learn and practice at the same time. For example, after cancer patients go through chemotherapy, they are presented scenarios where patient-like avatars go into a drug store to get their medication or interact with pharmacists. The game also presents questions on the screen and asks the patients if they’re thirsty or if they need to take their medication – allowing the patient to not only watch but also interact.”

The two studies are funded by grants from National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), a part of the National Institutes of Health. The researchers have also previously received funding from American Nurses’ Foundation, a program created by Sigma Theta Tau International.

The virtual support technology is not new. Dr. Clochesy and his team of interdisciplinary researchers initially developed the technology in 2009. Their previous studies were focused on an electronic self-management resource training platform called eSMART to help teach people how to better communicate with their health care providers.

The various adaptations of eSMART have shown significant improvements for people suffering with depression and high blood pressure. Since these studies began, Dr. Clochesy and his team have published more than 10 studies in major publications nationwide.

Dr. Clochesy hopes the new version of the virtual game shows similar improvements on cancer patents and decision makers for critically ill patients.

“Chronic illness is costing a fortune in this country,” Clochesy said. “The majority of the care is done by patients and families themselves. But, if they don’t do it well, they end up in the hospital — spending a lot of money. So, if we can teach people to better take care of themselves, we can have better health outcomes and we can also control health care costs.”

The technology appears promising. So, Dr. Clochesy hopes to eventually take the virtual support game to health facilities or home health agencies to help improve patients’ quality of life and help reduce health care costs.

Story and photos by Vjollca Hysenlika, USF Health Communications.