‘Taking a toy and turning it into a tool’: Virtual reality improving patient outcomes at IU Health

Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS– Virtual reality technology is helping improve patient outcomes at IU Health.

Every other Monday, Steve Sunversaw finds himself here at the Simon Cancer Center.

“I have Pompei disease,” said Sunversaw. “Seventeen people in the state of Indiana have been diagnosed. Nationwide, there’s only 700 people in the US that suffer from what I’ve got.”

His treatments consist of four-hour-long dialysis, which Sunversaw describes as painful, boring and even unsettling.

“Walking into the building of a medical environment, especially one with the word ‘cancer’ written on the side of it, you go ‘Whoa,’” said Sunversaw. “It makes you realizes you’re in a tough spot and you start thinking about it.”

But virtual reality is changing that.

“By distracting them with VR, we have found in our initial trial that we were able to decrease their anxiety by 50% in the patients we did this with,” said Brian Overshiner, a manager with IU Health’s 3d Innovation Lab.

“What we’re doing is taking a toy and turning it into a tool,” said Overshiner.

It’s a tool that’s helping more than just patients.

“During the height of COVID, we had a lot of stressed-out frontline workers,” said Overshiner.

IU Health set up “tranquility rooms” for frontline workers, which included snacks, soothing music and virtual reality.

“We can transport that person to the beach and they can sit and unwind. Who doesn’t want that?” Overshiner asked.

IU Health plans to expand the program and continue researching ways VR could affect patient outcomes.

“We were surprised it had such an impact so now we’re looking at longer term, how to offer VR as a standard of care for these patients,” Overshiner said.

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