FEBRUARY 7, 2023

The Fondation de l’Hôtel-Dieu d’Alma, Paperplane Therapeutics and TELUS leverage virtual reality to decrease anxiety in hospital settings

A new mental health pilot project at the Alma Hospital is designed to improve patient wellbeing and decrease need for prescribed medication

Land acknowledgement

Toronto - The Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

Alma (Quebec) - Today, the Fondation de l’Hôtel-Dieu d’Alma (the Alma Hospital Foundation) is launching a new virtual reality (VR) anxiety-management project at the Alma Hospital. From fairytale forests to tropical beaches, trial participants are immersed in peaceful scenes and guided through breathing exercises, with the goal of improving their response to medical or mental health treatments, and decreasing the need for prescribed anxiety medication. 

The project is the result of a collaboration between Paperplane Therapeutics, a Quebec-based company that designs therapeutic VR applications, and the financial support of TELUS. The Alma hospital’s psychiatry department is now equipped with immersive VR headsets that will be used to help reduce patients’ stress and anxiety before a treatment. The immersive technology could also have broader implications for healthcare, including managing stress for healthcare workers.   

“The number of requests for mental-health consultations is estimated to have increased by 30 to 40 per cent during the pandemic. Inflation and the labour shortage are also factors that are exacerbating the stress of Quebec families.These needs are urgent,” says Jean Lamoureux, Executive Director of the Fondation de l’Hôtel-Dieu d’Alma. “Our Foundation is working hard to be at the forefront of mental healthcare and, thanks to the innovation of Paperplane Therapeutics and TELUS, we will transform the way health services are delivered, while having a significant positive impact on patient wellbeing through the use of technology.”

Making healthcare workers’ jobs easier with VR

A study led at the Centre hospitalier universitaire Sainte-Justine showed that 80 per cent of patients who used the Paperplane Therapeutics VR tools felt less anxious during their medical procedure. At the Alma Hospital, the headsets are combined with a newly acquired cutting-edge device used to treat severe depression through magnetic stimulation. The project could eventually be deployed to other departments to gradually treat a social phobia or manage pain during oncology treatments. 

“For many people, medical treatments can be a source of pain and anxiety. Medications can be used to ease these problems, but they can also cause undesirable side effects and even lead to dependency in some cases. Traditional non-pharmaceutical approaches are not readily available because they require time and specialized personnel – two very limited resources in the health care network,” explains Dr.Jean-Simon Fortin, co-founder and CEO of Paperplane Therapeutics. “The virtual reality therapy that we offer places the patient in a calm and soothing world where they’re prompted to engage in deep breathing exercises, guided by a sensor that we’ve added to the virtual reality headset. This system combines two effective non-pharmaceutical approaches to reduce pain and anxiety, increase patient satisfaction, and make health care professionals’ work a bit easier.”

“There aren’t many resources to help a patient who is experiencing pain or anxiety. Prescription drugs are the most common approach. The problem is, those drugs have side effects and they can alter the treatment,” says Dr. Luc Cossette, Head of Psychiatry Services. “The VR headsets help us reduce the patients’ stress and their perception of pain, while also reducing the number of prescriptions for pain and anxiety medication. This is another great technological acquisition for our region and our medical team.”

“This pilot project, which facilitates pain and anxiety management in patients by integrating virtual reality, demonstrates our team’s motivation and eagerness to adopt innovative practices,” says Marie-Ève Tremblay, associate director, Adult Continuum — Mental Health, CIUSSS du Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean. “This project reflects our commitment to offer quality and compassionate care that truly fosters healing and wellness for patients.”

Transforming how healthcare is provided with 5G and virtual reality

Paperplane Therapeutics and TELUS plan to continue developing the therapeutic VR experience allowing patients to interact with their immersive environments and will trial the technology in other departments, like oncology, to reduce pain and anxiety. 5G will also push health innovation further by connecting paramedics with emergency medicine workers and allow surgeons to remotely supervise a surgery when every second matters. The 5G technology will open up infinite possibilities for a more immersive healthcare experience with VR thanks to faster speeds and greater reliability, while edge computing will deliver seamless, ultra-fast image rendering and responsiveness for users. 

“Our social purpose is at the heart of everything we do and this project really speaks to how we’re creating positive social change in our communities by addressing some of our society’s most pressing issues,” says Nazim Benhadid, Senior VP, Network Build and Operations at TELUS. “We’re inspired and excited to continue our collaboration with the Foundation and Paperplane Therapeuthics as we leverage emerging technology to help Quebecers take charge of their mental health. As 5G continues to evolve, its superiority in connectivity will enable our hospitals and healthcare systems to build resilience for the future while improving access, efficiency and the overall care experience of patients.”

About the Fondation de l’Hôtel-Dieu d’Alma

The Fondation de l’Hôtel-Dieu d’Alma was founded in 1981 as the expression of a desire shared across the region to provide residents with convenient local access to a diverse range of high-quality health care services. 

The Fondation de l’Hôtel-Dieu d’Alma supports the autonomy of its health care facilities by improving the quality of health care and other social services through the acquisition of specialized instruments, cutting-edge equipment, and diverse actions to promote the preservation and development of its humanitarian vision with different establishments in the Lac St-Jean Est RCM, including the Hôpital d’Alma, CLSCs, CHSLDs, and senior living facilities

Paperplane Therapeutics

Paperplane Therapeutics offers cognitive-behavioral therapies in virtual reality that are purpose-built and clinically validated to improve pain and anxiety management for patients receiving medical care. We offer solutions tailored to meet the highest therapeutic standards and integrate seamlessly into clinical environments. They can be used as a standalone modality or as an adjunct to standard pharmacological therapies making them game changers in the field of pain and anxiety management in clinical settings.

For more information, please contact:

François Marchand
Public Relations