Feasibility of an Immersive Virtual Reality Intervention for Hospitalized Patients: An Observational Cohort Study

JMIR Ment Health. 2016 Jun 27;3(2):e28. doi: 10.2196/mental.5801.


Background: Virtual reality (VR) offers immersive, realistic, three-dimensional experiences that "transport" users to novel environments. Because VR is effective for acute pain and anxiety, it may have benefits for hospitalized patients; however, there are few reports using VR in this setting.

Objective: The aim was to evaluate the acceptability and feasibility of VR in a diverse cohort of hospitalized patients.

Methods: We assessed the acceptability and feasibility of VR in a cohort of patients admitted to an inpatient hospitalist service over a 4-month period. We excluded patients with motion sickness, stroke, seizure, dementia, nausea, and in isolation. Eligible patients viewed VR experiences (eg, ocean exploration; Cirque du Soleil; tour of Iceland) with Samsung Gear VR goggles. We then conducted semistructured patient interview and performed statistical testing to compare patients willing versus unwilling to use VR.

Results: We evaluated 510 patients; 423 were excluded and 57 refused to participate, leaving 30 participants. Patients willing versus unwilling to use VR were younger (mean 49.1, SD 17.4 years vs mean 60.2, SD 17.7 years; P=.01); there were no differences by sex, race, or ethnicity. Among users, most reported a positive experience and indicated that VR could improve pain and anxiety, although many felt the goggles were uncomfortable.

Conclusions: Most inpatient users of VR described the experience as pleasant and capable of reducing pain and anxiety. However, few hospitalized patients in this "real-world" series were both eligible and willing to use VR. Consistent with the "digital divide" for emerging technologies, younger patients were more willing to participate. Future research should evaluate the impact of VR on clinical and resource outcomes.

Clinicaltrial: Clinicaltrials.gov NCT02456987; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02456987 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/6iFIMRNh3).

Keywords: feasibility studies; hospitalization; virtual reality therapy.

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02456987