Posted: Apr 26, 2018 07:45 PM EDT INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Physicians at Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis are testing a new way to treat the mental health of their critically ill patients: virtual reality.  Dr. Dmitriy Golovyan, an internal medicine fellow at the Indiana University School of Medicine, says for years critical care physicians have patted themselves on the back for keeping a patient alive and discharging them back home. However, he says those patients suffered from serious long-term mental and emotional health effects due to their long stay in the intensive care unit.  Working in cooperation with IUPUI School of Informatics and Computing, a pilot program launched in the Eskenazi Health ICU where patients donned a headset and experienced a virtual reality adventure for 10-15 minutes from their hospital bed.  “What we’re going to do is start them out in a hospital room, and when they begin, they will hear a voice, a very nice calm voice, telling them that they’re in the ICU and to help them with their stay in the ICU, they’re going to be able to take a journey outside,” explained Wendy Krogg, from the IUPUI School of Informatics, showing how the virtual reality hospital room fades into a park similar to Eagle Creek Park, where patients can ride a tram line and eventually travel to a beach or a sculpture garden.  “You’re distracting them from really being where they are,” said Chauncey Frend of the UITS Advanced Visualization Laboratory who assists IUPUI students.

“It’s essentially a magic trick. It’s really important to do it right because really your brain is the last component in that scenario.”

Golovyan explained the program could have huge implications for healthcare. He hopes the successful use of VR in the ICU will have a number of positive outcomes: less use of opioids and other painkillers; quicker patient improvement, leading to earlier transfers out of the ICU; and faster total recovery time for patients to regain normal function at home.  “The patients that I’ve put it on so far, I’ve had trouble taking them off afterwards because people just want the experience of the ICU replaced with something else,” said Golovyan.

“Life support is hard.”  The VR experience is more than just a visual journey. The headset is equipped with headphones so the patient can hear birds, waterfalls, waves on the beach and calming music.

The system also connects to a series of fans and heat lamps that can mimic the environment the patient is experiencing. Developers one day hope to use scans of patients’ homes in VR headsets.  “The things you can do with this are only limited by imagination because what you have is direct access to somebody’s mind essentially,” said Dr. Golovyan.  The program works with Eskenazi Health’s Critical Care Recovery Center (CCRC), a first-in-the-nation outpatient clinic focused on treating ICU survivors after they’ve left the hospital. Read more from…

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