The Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York, is changing the way they treat pediatric cancer patients. Instead of administering addictive opioids, they are hoping to relieve anxiety and stress. How do they do that? They give their patients the opportunity to explore a virtual reality. The Virtual Reality Fine Arts program (VRFA) commissioned renowned artist Tom Christopher to recreate a sensory-rich, virtual New York City neighborhood that patients can explore. Moreover, the virtual reality experience is an immersive, abstract take on urban life. The project is a new look at how we can use art for modern medicine.
Virtual Reality as Medicine
The Montefiore Medical Center is a research university hospital, meaning they teach and practice innovative techniques. Their mission is to explore new treatments and to advance the health of their community in the Bronx. Therefore, they reached out to Tom Christopher, known for his urban expressionist paintings, and the Fashion Institute of Technology to help their patients in extreme pain. Montefiore told Forbes that “The Virtual Reality Fine Art Program at Montefiore seeks to diminish anxiety, pain, and opioid addiction through stimulus-rich and curated artistic environments. These experiences will serve as ‘immersive analgesics’ allowing physicians to treat their patients more effectively. Also, it will improve patient’s health and hospital experiences and reduce reliance on pain medication, especially opioids.”
Tom Christopher is a classically trained artist famous for his distinctive and beautiful murals of urban life. He originally began as a courtroom artist and even designed ads for Disney, CBS, and motor companies. He made a transition to fine arts in the 80s, where he was featured in many exhibitions and galleries. When he was approached by Montefiore and FIT for the virtual reality project, he was ready to attempt something new artistically. Christopher told Forbes that “Even though I knew nothing about VR, I recognized this was a rare opportunity for an artist in his 60s to discover a new medium.”
A Walk Through the Neighborhood
Christopher uses Google Tilt Brush to recreate an abstract virtual reality of the South Bronx. He first draws on location, using his signature style with Google Tilt Brush. Then, he transfers the illustrations to the virtual reality technology. You can see people busily walking around the streets, cyclists moving, and familiar street signs. Cars and buses pass by as the user marvels at the contrasting colors. The project was such a success that FIT and Christopher are now working with the New York Botanical Gardens. They are creating another virtual reality world with Google Tilt to illustrate the floral masterpieces that exist within NYBG.
We love that new technology and art blend together to help advance modern medicine. The immersive virtual reality experience is a mesmerizing way to reduce stress and anxiety. Furthermore, walking through the colorful streets of the South Bronx from a hospital bed is revolutionary. It is an experience you must see to appreciate. The concept of virtual reality to help alleviate patients in hospitals has swept the nation. Hospitals in LA fare using virtual reality for relaxation games and walks through nature. Even though it doesn’t work for every patient, for those that it does work on, the results are outstanding.