“The use of VR has enormous added value for Ziekenhuis Netwerk Antwerpen.”
According to Bart Segers, director of physiotherapy and nephrology at ZNA and umbrella coordinator of physiotherapy GZA. And that he has quite an impact from these positions is evident from the organizations behind the two acronyms. ZNA stands for Ziekenhuis Netwerk Antwerpen (Hospital Network Antwerp) and GZA for GasthuisZusters Antwerpen (Guesthouse Sisters Antwerp). GZA consists of a hospital with three campuses, an outpatient clinic and several residential care centers, while ZNA covers as many as 16 campuses on eight sites. When the pending merger is officially clinched, ZNA and GZA together will be among the largest hospital groups in Europe.
ZNA has been utilizing virtual reality since 2021, across several sites. And that is no coincidence. In fact, from his position, Segers structurally looks for innovations that make his colleagues’ work smarter, faster and better. At a trade fair in Ghent, for example, he came across Corpus VR’s rehabilitation solution, which offers complete exercise environments for simple to complex complaints within the focus areas of physical, ergo and neurotherapy. Segers had already been asked by practitioners in the physical medicine department at ZNA whether he could propose a system to facilitate the diagnosis and rehabilitation of disorders of the locomotor system and nerves. “And then one plus one is two,” Segers said. “I coordinated my plans, among others, with our IT department and with PMO, the Project Management Office, and together with a number of departments we issued a tender for the deployment of VR glasses for the entire ZNA.”
Pilot and tender
“The tender was a very interesting and intensive process,” says Segers. “For both parties. The question from our physical medicine department was clear, but I suspected that VR could also be interesting for other departments. I therefore also sounded out other parties in our ZNA network and kept IT closely involved. And fortunately, the minds turned out to be ripe for a pilot, on the basis of which we then drew up the tender.”
For Segers’ pilot, Corpus VR installed two devices. One at the physical medicine and rehabilitation department of Jan Palfijn, the general ZNA hospital in northern Antwerp. There, Corpus VR’s solution was deployed in the field of movement and rehabilitation. The other system at the Burn Center in Stuivenberg, one of six approved burn centers in Belgium. Logically, the VR solution was used there in the treatment of trauma and anxiety. After a successful pilot, the tender was issued and providers could bid on two lots: pain and movement. Corpus VR passed the motion lot with flying colors, and during the tender process – which also included an agreed test period – was allowed to install a device at every ZNA site.
The implementation challenges
“And from that moment you see with your own eyes that our healthcare, of which we are all rightly proud, is sometimes really still in its infancy in terms of organization,” confessed Segers. “Nothing to the detriment of all my colleagues in the various hospital departments, but the current structure and workload in various departments mean that an implementation in terms of IT, nomenclature, and organization within the departments could be considerably better.”
Experiencing the enthusiasm of his colleagues and patients on a daily basis, Segers understands better than anyone that it is difficult for therapists, patients and involved organizations in general if the link between technology and care organization is not optimal. “Thanks to Corpus VR, we already offer a very good add-on to our therapies in the field of neck rehabilitation. Similar benefits we expect to realize soon in shoulder treatments as well. We hear from patients that they experience more variety in the treatments and much more freedom in their exercises. After all, they can do the exercises from home while the practitioner in the hospital gets all the data on his dashboard. It can be that simple when a good organization is in place.”
If anything, by the way, the practitioners are even more enthusiastic than their patients. “Especially our colleagues at Jan Palfijn, who really use the application on a daily basis, see a structural improvement in the compliance and effectiveness of their treatment.” At Stuivenberg, where Corpus VR is used particularly for neurological neglect and in dealing with burns, the use is less structural than at Jan Palfijn. “Fortunately, at our burn center, we don’t have patients on whom VR is applicable every day. But in the patients where we apply it, we immediately see the benefits in terms of pain management and dealing with burns. In children who are really focused on their pain, for example, we see tremendously good results; as soon as the VR glasses go on, they are in their VR world and you see their mobility improve tremendously,” Segers said.
Difference between private practices and hospitals
Segers already has extensive experience with VR and knows both the hospital world and the context of the private practitioner or practice owner well. While the benefits for both flavours are undeniably great, he sees important differences between the two worlds. “But let’s start by noting that the cost of a good VR application was very manageable for us,” he said. Also, in both primary and secondary care, the pressure is high to see many patients. A big difference, as far as I am concerned, is that during their day, the first-line practitioner does not always know what treatment will be next, and whether VR is applicable at that time. I think this makes it a little more complex organizationally. In the hospital, we have a calendar full of certain pathologies, so then it is easier to organize. Moreover, a hospital, with its IT support and other support is perhaps a little better equipped to get started right away. While those same structures in turn hold back the flexibility and thus innovativeness that a practice can show.”
“Either way,” concludes Segers, “I am very pleased that with Corpus VR we have a system that can basically be deployed quickly, without too much fuss. Ideally, of course, you’d like to see a treatment process start-up with literally the push of a button, thus achieving maximum efficiency. It’s not quite that far yet. In a hospital like ours, you necessarily have to deal with different accounts and the associated impact on privacy, passwords, updates and the like. But in itself, the practical applicability of Corpus VR is quite straightforward. With all its efficiency and financial benefits.”