Virtual Reality as Therapy for Hospital Patients and Staff

Virtual Reality as Therapy for Hospital Patients and Training for Staff

An innovative study at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles aims to ease the stress of patients staying in the hospital.

Doctors at Cedars-Sinai are studying the effects of virtual reality on hospital patients whose real world surroundings at times can be sterile and uncomfortable.

Virtual reality therapy is the use of computer-produced situations to make the user believe and feel as though they are actually in a different place and situation. They may wear a helmet or goggles that contain a small video screen through which you see computer-produced images. When you move your head, the images on the screen change as they would in real life.

The end result, patients are carried away to different worlds, like Iceland or in the ocean, for a brief moment in time.

“This is a real incredible opportunity to escape the four walls of the hospital,” said Dr. Brennen Spiegel of Cedars-Sinai in a NBC News report.

So far, researchers have tested the virtual reality system with about 70 people. Many patients say, according to the report, it’s helping relieve stress and anxiety.

Doctors at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan have used virtual reality to turn wheelchairs into rollercoasters for patients. One young boy exclaimed while using the therapy, “I’m on top of the world!”

The Cedars-Sinai team thinks virtual reality could also be useful for women enduring long labors and those having to wait for painful procedures. They’re now working to determine if the therapy produces greater health benefits, such as lower blood pressure and reduced pain scores.

Younger patients have been most willing to test the system, but it’s older patients who appear to be most amazed by it and could get the biggest benefit. To watch patients’ reactions while using the therapy, watch the full report here.

Meanwhile, the technology is also being developed and changing the way hospitals and healthcare providers are training doctors, nurses, and medical personnel.

Virtual reality company, Next Galaxy Corp has partnered with Nicklaus Children’s Hospital to develop virtual reality medical instructional software for procedures like cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), nasal gastric tube insertion, Foley catheter insertion, intubation, starting an IV, wound care, and the Heimlich maneuver.

Virtual reality for training purposes is still in its early days, but according to Dr. Narendra Kini, CEO at Miami Children’s Health System, the retention level a year after a virtual reality training session can be as much as 80% compared to a 20% retention after a week with traditional training.

Kini credits the high retention rate using virtual reality to the fact that humans are primarily visual learners. And virtual reality allows for more repetition and reduces training costs.

According to Next Galaxy representatives, the company is working with multiple hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, assisted care facilities, and medical schools on multiple virtual reality educational projects. Virtual reality technology can bring realistic 3D digital representations of organs to life compared to current teaching methods using videos and diagrams.