Discoveries Magazine


Hospital Room With a View

Virtual reality creates immersive experiences for gaming, training, education — and now even healthcare. Research at Cedars-Sinai demonstrates the technology can offer a therapeutic distraction to hospital patients by transporting them to a different universe. All it takes is specialty goggles and a smartphone or tablet. Brennan Spiegel, MD, Cedars-Sinai’s resident expert in nerdtastic technologies, explains:

Photo: Al Cuizon

“My work is based on existing research showing that virtual reality can shut down pain signals. The spotlight theory posits that we are only able to focus on one narrow matter at once, and our brain shuts down other things to see what’s in the ‘spotlight.’ So if someone is in pain and they play an immersive game, the pain is diminished by virtue of being ignored.

“Thanks to recent improvements in virtual reality technologies — and the accompanying reduction in costs — we can bring its benefits to a broad population of patients. My team has completed two studies that offer patients virtual experiences, including an aerial tour of Iceland and an underwater swim with exotic sea life — all in their hospital rooms. We gathered objective, measurable pain scores before and after, along with vital signs like blood pressure. The average pain score dropped from 5.44 to 4.1 after a five-minute virtual reality experience, which is highly statistically significant.

“Hospital patients may experience anxiety, uncertainty, and boredom. They are in an unfamiliar environment without their usual freedoms. Virtual reality has the potential to improve patient satisfaction and, possibly, may even help people recover faster and go home sooner. This would not only reduce hospital costs but also address the psychosocial impact of hospitalization. In short, virtual reality could help us better care for the whole patient.”

Brennan Spiegel, MD, is director of Health Services Research in Academic Affairs and Clinical Transformation at Cedars-Sinai.

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