Bellvitge Hospital assesses the use of virtual reality to improve patient experience in the ICU

- Facilities
Immersive practice may allow patients to better cope with some painful treatments, such as the removal of chest drains.

A study launched at the Bellvitge Hospital Intensive Care Unit (ICU) aims to assess whether the use of virtual reality (VR) glasses significantly improves the patient experience in a rather painful procedure such as the removal of chest drains after heart surgery.

Drains are an essential element in the recovery of patients after this type of surgery, especially to maintain proper haemodynamic function by removing blood, fluid and air that can accumulate around the heart. This avoids complications such as haemorrhage and inflammation that can become serious. Drains are usually removed 24-48 hours after surgery in a painful procedure that requires the administration of painkillers.

"What we are trying to establish is whether the immersive experience with the VR goggles helps patients to have a different perception, a reduction in pain and distress. It is also about attending to the emotional health of the patient, which we know is fundamental for a better recovery," explains Laia Gascón, nurse in the hospital’s ICU who is carrying out the study as the final project of a master's degree specialising in the critical care area. During the extraction procedure, which lasts about 15-20 minutes, the patient wears the goggles and sees different immersive videos projected from the library created by VRPharma, the study's technological collaborator. This company develops VR solutions to improve the patient experience in medical centres and facilitate the work of healthcare staff.

Until April 2023, the study plans to collect and evaluate different vital signs, pain and anxiety parameters from a group of patients who will use the virtual reality system, and from another group who will not, while their cardiothoracic drains are being removed. The reception from the first patients who have used the glasses has been very positive. The first results will be known in June 2023.

The study is part of the humanisation projects that the ICU, and Bellvitge Hospital as a whole, have been working on for years to ensure that the patient-focused experience is satisfactory not only from care-giving perspective.