Virtual Reality Tailored to the Needs of Post-ICU Patients: A Safety and Immersiveness Study in Healthy Volunteers

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OBJECTIVES: ICU treatments frequently result in long-term psychologic impairments, negatively affecting quality of life. An effective treatment strategy is still lacking. The aim of this study was to describe and evaluate the safety and immersiveness of a newly designed ICU-specific virtual reality module.

DESIGN: A randomized controlled healthy volunteer trial.

SETTING: ICU of the Franciscus Gasthuis & Vlietland Hospital (Rotterdam, the Netherlands), a large teaching hospital.

PARTICIPANTS: Forty-five virtual reality-naive healthy volunteers.

INTERVENTIONS: Volunteers were randomized to three arms: the head-mounted display virtual reality group (n = 15), the 2D group (n = 15), and the crossover group (n = 15). Safety was assessed by changes in vital signs and the occurrence of simulator sickness (Simulator Sickness Questionnaire). Immersiveness was assessed using the Igroup Presence Questionnaire.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Volunteers in the head-mounted display virtual reality group experienced more mild symptoms of simulator sickness, expressed as symptoms of dizziness (p = 0.04) and stomach awareness (p = 0.04), than the 2D group. Nevertheless, none of the individual Simulator Sickness Questionnaire items were scored as being severe, no changes in vital signs were observed, and no sessions were prematurely stopped. Volunteers in the crossover group experienced a higher total presence (p < 0.001) when using head-mounted display virtual reality, expressed as a higher sense of presence (p < 0.001), more involvement (p < 0.01), and more experienced realism (p < 0.001).

CONCLUSIONS: ICU-specific virtual reality appears safe and more immersive than 2D, implicating that ICU-specific virtual reality is feasible for clinical use. One should however be aware of simulator sickness-related symptoms. Future research is needed to confirm these findings in survivors of critical illness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e0388
JournalCritical Care Explorations
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2021 The Authors. Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. on behalf of the Society of Critical Care Medicine.


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