Use of virtual reality in the inpatient rehabilitation of COVID-19 patients

Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2021 Jul-Aug;71:76-81. doi: 10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2021.04.008. Epub 2021 Apr 29.


Introduction: Use of virtual reality (VR) in healthcare has expanded in recent years. The challenges faced by patients with prolonged COVID-19-related hospitalizations - social isolation, disability, neurologic sequelae, adjustment-related anxiety, depression, and stress - may be mitigated by the novel use of VR as one modality of a comprehensive rehabilitation plan. This descriptive study aimed to understand patient satisfaction and perceived benefit of virtual reality on a COVID-19 recovery unit, as well as the logistical and operational feasibility of providing VR content for patients and staff.

Materials and methods: During the COVID-19 surge in New York City in 2020, the COVID-19 Recovery Unit (CRU) of a large academic hospital invited patients and staff to participate in VR sessions with three categories of experience: (1) Guided meditation, (2) Exploration of natural environments, (3) Cognitive stimulation games. Patients and staff were surveyed about satisfaction and perceived benefit.

Results: 13 patients and 11 staff were surveyed, with median patient satisfaction scores of 9 out of 10, with ten representing "extremely satisfied," and median staff satisfaction scores of 10. 13/13 patients answered "yes" to recommending the therapy to others, and 12/13 answered "yes" to perceived enhancement of their treatment. 11/11 staff answered "yes" to recommending the therapy to others, and 11/11 answered "yes" to perceived enhancement of their wellbeing.

Discussion: A VR program implemented on a COVID-19 rehabilitation unit for patients and healthcare providers was rated as highly satisfactory with perceived benefit by survey respondents. Participants commented that the use of VR was useful in coping with isolation and loneliness, and could be implemented within the context of clinical care for COVID-19 patients as part of a comprehensive rehabilitation model. The use of VR was also logistically and operationally feasible on the CRU. Future work to compare benefits of VR to standard neuropsychological rehabilitation is needed.

Keywords: COVID-19; Inpatient rehabilitation; Mindfulness; Virtual reality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • COVID-19 / psychology
  • COVID-19 / rehabilitation*
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Hospital Units
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Loneliness / psychology
  • Medical Staff, Hospital
  • Meditation
  • Nature
  • New York City
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Social Isolation / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Video Games
  • Virtual Reality*