Mercyhealth among 800 hospitals using technology to help children during hospital stays
ROCKFORD — Puppies racing in space to music? That’s virtual reality.
Children actively engaged in that game and others as a means to escape the doldrums of lying in a hospital bed? That’s the reality of Starlight’s Virtual Reality (VR) headsets.
For months, child life specialists in Mercyhealth’s pediatric unit at the Javon Bea Hospital-Riverside campus have been using the headsets to help make procedures for pediatric patients less stressful and less painful. Mercyhealth is among hundreds of hospitals, including SwedishAmerican in Rockford, turning to technology to help child patients.
The high-tech head device comes loaded with 20 games, each offering an entertaining 3D virtual reality experience with sound to transport a child into space, in a body of water to swim with otters, or virtually anywhere around the globe while the child rests in their hospital bed.
More importantly, she said, the device’s gaming content not only helps to pass time but can decrease a patient’s anxiety.
“With our kids we do a lot of medical encounters and procedures, and it’s very frightening for our children and stressful for the families,” Huber said.
″… When children are afraid, they resist cooperating and you lose the ability to verbally respond with them. So, anything we can do to help promote their comfort and make something fun out of something scary is going to be better for them and make it easier for us to do our jobs.”
Paris Aldma, 15, of Rockford, got in a game of “Space Pups” moments before being discharged.
“You kind of forget where you are, which is really nice,” she said. “They’re comfortable, too. It’s not like it’s weighing your head down.”
The virtual reality games can be played using a handheld device or by simple head movements.
In some cases, virtual reality can even be used as an alternative to sedation.
“It’s extremely vital we use supportive measures for patients and families throughout medical procedures,” said Taylor Turben, a Mercyhealth child life specialist. “Part of what we do is develop a coping plan for patients and families to perform these medical procedures, like IV placements, in the most efficient way for staff, as well as the most comfortable and stress-free as possible for the patient. This technology has proven to be a game changer for us.”
Said Huber, “Just recently, I used it for a child who we had to put in a picc line, which is a peripherally inserted central catheter. It’s a more advanced IV. This was an older child and the risk of sedating the child was more risky than trying to walk them through the procedure. So we were able to use (the headset), and I was able to do my thing on the side of the bed and poke the arm, and we were done in no time.”
For now, Mercyhealth has a pair of virtual reality headsets, one for in-inpatient and the other for out-patient use. The headsets were donated by the Starlight Children’s Foundation as part of its virtual reality program, which has provided more than 800 hospitals, including SwedishAmerican, and other pediatric facilities with the virtual reality goggles, said Chris de Haan, Starlight spokesman.
Starlight’s virtual reality program was developed in collaboration with Lenovo, a Fortune Global 500 company and a developer of smart technology, and SOTI, a provider of mobile and IoT device management solutions.