VA Hospital nurse Rawlins awarded $25,000 for VR therapy research

One of our own, Caitlin Rawlins, Highlands School Salutatorian Class of 2004 and an RN at the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville, NC was recently awarded a $25,000 grant to continue her research into using Virtual Reality therapy to help alleviate post-operative pain instead of opioids for pain management.

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) awarded Charles George VA Medical Center the $25,000 ANCC Pathway Award April 25 at the ANCC Pathway to Excellence Conference in Orlando, Fla.

The annual award honors a project proposal in a Pathway to Excellence designated organization that demonstrates innovation and technology to create a positive nurse practice environment. The monetary award — supported by Cerner, a global leader in health care technology — will be used to further implement and expand the project.

During a VR immersion therapy session, patients spend approximately 30 minutes in one of several three-dimensional, computer generated relaxation environments that offer interactive breathing exercises, muscle relaxation techniques, and a VR painting option. Envisioned by Caitlin Rawlins, a CGVAMC nurse during her first year of practice, the medical center currently plans to expand the program beyond orthopedics to benefit veterans on other units such as short-term rehabilitation, hospice and longterm care. CGVAMC is the first VA Medical Center to use VR in this capacity.

“Innovation like this, especially from a first-year RN, is characteristic of the idea generation that real shared governance can engender,” said David Przestrzelski, chief nurse executive, CGVAMC. “From day one, nurses at CGVAMC understand that any idea to improve care for our veterans could be a great one and they will be supported to explore existing evidence and create new evidence. Ms. Rawlins optimized that opportunity.”

As part of CGVAMC’s new, and largely successful, Enhanced Recovery After Surgery Protocol (ERAS) initiated in November 2017, the workgroup began considering other modalities to help alleviate post-operative pain and to improve quality of patient experience. In December 2017, Rawlins, registered nurse on CGVAMC’s surgical ward, began working with Dr. Christopher Nagy, chief of orthopedic surgery, and Wellovate LLC, to bring virtual reality (VR) therapy to the hospital’s surgical patients with the program WayaVR.

This is being utilized initially as a pilot program specifically with post-operative patients with plans to grow the therapy program in the future. Virtual Reality (VR) is a three-dimensional, computer generated environment with which an individual interacts in a seemingly real or physical way. This technology is part of the future of healthcare and will play a significant role in research and care delivery while providing an avenue for alternative and adjunct therapies. CGVAMC is the first of the VHA medical centers to utilize VR for post-operative patients as a distraction therapy with the intention of decreasing discomfort, anxiety and stress while improving quality of overall patient experience.

In July 2018, the first veteran trialed this innovative therapy at CGVAMC, two days after he’d undergone a total knee arthroplasty. Throughout the experience the veteran exclaimed how realistic the graphics were saying “it’s like high-quality photographs, very realistic.” After the standard 30-minute session, the veteran completed a short survey embedded in the program, which allows for data collection during the pilot study. After this inaugural session, the patient told staff and doctors present that he “barely felt any pain” in his post-operative knee during the experience and found the therapy very capable of distracting from discomfort and stress. Another veteran to use VR said, “I didn’t think about my pain as much and, as a result, needed less [pain] meds or at least less frequently.” Thus far, 100% of participants agree or strongly agree that VR reduced their stress and discomfort, was a positive distraction, and would recommend the therapy to fellow veterans.

Pictured at the top of the article is Caitlin Rawlins, RN at the Charles George Medical Center in Asheville, instructs a Veteran on the use of Virtual Reality goggles to relieve pain during an inpatient stay.

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