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How Clinicians Can Challenge Their Skepticism of Technology: Bringing VRET into Clinical Practice

Updated: Mar 14

Skepticism — even cynicism — about technology is present across every demographic. Whether it’s an update to the look of our favorite social network or the introduction of AI into medical settings, change is often scary and rarely welcomed.


While metathesiophobia, a fear of change, isn’t yet something oVRcome provides treatment for, it is something we understand. And while adopting a new technology for your clinical practice might not be something you’re phobic about, you’re certainly right to be skeptical. Will this really improve patient outcomes? Will it simplify and streamline your treatment plans or add new complexity that means longer hours and more clerical work?


Recent research published under the title “Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy for Fear of Heights: Clinicians’ Attitudes Become More Positive After Trying VRET”, in Frontiers in Psychology, has revealed that clinicians are initially skeptical about virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET), but after using it themselves they are found to have significantly more favorable attitudes towards this form of treatment.


Let’s dive into where the skepticism of new clinical technology comes from, and explore the findings of these researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.



Background: Clinicians are skeptical of new technology in general


Today we’re exploring research published by Frontiers in Psychology and you can find the original research article online here.


The authors acknowledge the powerful potential for virtual reality exposure therapy, yet identify a lack of widespread uptake. They considered this was partly due to the expense and impracticality of VR equipment (something that oVRcome’s easy app-based treatment has largely solved). Further, they found that “attitudes and lack of experience among clinicians” also played a significant role.


If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. There are many reasons why clinicians are resistant to integrating new technologies into their practices. These include:


  1. The sense that new technology provides no practical improvement over existing methods. Clinicians, particularly those working in hospital settings amid bureaucratic hierarchies, sometimes perceive new technology as being adopted for its own sake.

  2. A concern that new tech will increase a clinician’s workload. This is a very real issue, given that half of health workers in the US report feelings of burnout.

  3. Worries that patients are unwilling or unable to learn about using new technology.


As we’ll see from the published findings, VRET can stand up to these concerns and it offers a solution to several challenges faced by in vivo exposure therapy. Let’s move on to the study itself and find out what the results could mean for your clinical practice.


The study: Findings and results.


This study asked two questions. Firstly, can VRET be effective at reducing discomfort when facing fear-inducing scenarios, and secondly, how do clinicians’ attitudes to VRET change after trying it for themselves?


We’ve worked hard to answer the first question, and have several peer-reviewed papers demonstrating the efficacy of oVRcome’s programs (Lacey and Frampton, 2022). We found that using the oVRcome app for 6 weeks had the effect of reducing the severity of symptoms in people with specific phobias by 75%.


As for the second question, here are the main takeaways from the Frontiers study:


  • General attitude toward the use of VR in therapy was significantly more favorable post-intervention compared to pre-intervention

  • Usefulness of VR in therapy was rated significantly higher post-intervention compared to pre-intervention.

  • VR as a supplemental tool in therapy was also rated significantly higher post-intervention compared to pre-intervention.

  • Feasibility of VR in therapy was also rated significantly higher post-intervention compared to pre-intervention.





While clinicians have reason to be skeptical about new technologies, this study showed that resistance to cutting-edge treatment is not always justified. VRET in general, and oVRcome in particular, is an innovative treatment plan for phobias and generalized anxiety disorders that solves many of the particular challenges faced by in vivo exposure therapy.


How VRET can solve traditional concerns of clinicians


When asked about the disadvantages of VRET, 42% of surveyed clinicians were concerned it wouldn’t be immersive enough while 12% were concerned it would be difficult for patients to learn to use the technology.



These are valid concerns and studies have shown that immersion may be a prerequisite for appropriate anxiety response (Price and Anderson, 2007). For exposure therapy to be effective, it has to simulate the real thing, in a graded, appropriate way.


Positively, the study found that participants rated the VRET highly for immersion, and interestingly non-clinicians rated the environments slightly more immersive than clinicians. This is likely to be related to initial skepticism about the efficacy of treatment.Immersion is central to oVRcome’s model. With a VR library of over 1000 simulations, and filtering by phobia, anxiety rating, and specific triggers, clinicians can find the appropriate scenarios for their clients. 


A second concern noted in the study was that novel technology poses a challenge to client uptake. However, it was found that at the outset of the study, non-clinicians had a significantly more favorable general attitude toward novel technology than clinicians. At oVRcome, we’ve found that clients prefer virtual reality exposure therapy to in vivo therapy as it gives them more control and feels safer. It enables small steps towards facing their fears.


oVRcome’s Clinican Portal enables you to take on more clients and see faster results by prescribing additional VR exposure therapy as “homework”. You can learn more about how to use oVRcome’s Clinician Portal in your practice here.


Wrapping Up


On the front line of mental health, clinicians are alert to the challenges of new technology. But oVRcome has been built with clinicians in mind and our team of clinical psychologists are pioneers in bringing VR into clinical practice.


If you’re still skeptical about the power of VRET for your practice, this study has demonstrated that your attitudes might change if you give it a try! Register today for a free headset and discover how oVRcome can take your clinical practice to a new level.


References:

  1. Front. Psychol., 15 July 2021, Sec. Psychology for Clinical Settings, Volume 12 - 2021, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.671871

  2. Lacey C, Frampton C, Beaglehole B. oVRcome – Self-guided virtual reality for specific phobias: A randomized controlled trial. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. 2023;57(5):736-744. doi:10.1177/00048674221110779

  3. Price, M., and Anderson, P. (2007). The role of presence in virtual reality exposure therapy. J. Anxiety Disord. 21, 742–751. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2006.11.002

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