Feasibility of a virtual reality intervention in the intensive care unit

Heart Lung. 2021 Nov-Dec;50(6):748-753. doi: 10.1016/j.hrtlng.2021.05.007. Epub 2021 Jul 1.


Background: Delirium prevention requires optimal management of pain and anxiety. Given the limitations of current pharmacologic interventions, evaluation of novel non-pharmacological interventions is required. Virtual reality (VR) stimulation may be a promising intervention because of its capability to reduce psychophysiological stress, pain, and anxiety and to restore cognitive and attentional capacities.

Objective: To ascertain patients' and providers' perceptions of acceptability and safety of VR intervention in the intensive care unit (ICU).

Methods: We enrolled a cohort of 15 ICU patients and 21 health care providers to administer a 15-minute session showing a relaxing beach scene with VR headsets and nature sound effects. Participants were then asked to rate their experiences on a Likert scale survey.

Results: The majority of patients (86%, 12 of 14) rated the headsets as moderately to very comfortable. All had moderate or greater sense of presence in the virtual environment, and 79% (11 of 14) rated their overall experience at 3 or greater (5 indicating that they enjoyed it very much). Seventy-one percent (10 of 14) of the patients felt that their anxiety was better with VR, and 57% (8 of 14) did not notice a change in their pain or discomfort. All health care providers found the headset to be at least moderately comfortable and felt a moderate or greater sense of presence. All providers concluded that VR therapy should be available for their patients. Both groups experienced minimal side effects.

Conclusion: In this prospective study of perceptions of VR therapy for ICU patients and health care providers, there was a high level of acceptance, with minimal side effects, for both groups despite their low levels of prior experience with virtual reality and video gaming.

Keywords: Critical illness; Delirium; Feasibility; Intensive care unit; Virtual reality.

MeSH terms

  • Feasibility Studies
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Prospective Studies
  • Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy*
  • Virtual Reality*