October 15, 2021
In 2018, Methodist Children’s Hospital became the first hospital in Texas to explore the benefits of virtual reality and gaming as part of the healing process for children. In three years, full-time patient technology specialist (PTS), Alexander Pereira, has used technology to provide a positive hospital experience for thousands of children. The program’s success has led to the recent addition of a second, full-time PTS, whose position is fully funded by Child’s Play Charity. The addition allows for more children to experience the benefits of one of the hospital’s most unique offerings.
“Having two patient technology specialists is already paying dividends in our ability to cover more patients, work on more projects and host more special events,” Pereira said. “There’s quite literally twice as many options as there used to be.”
Pereira and newcomer, Elena Guerra, spend their days bringing joy and welcome distractions from room to room. A typical day for a PTS could involve spending one-on-one time with a child who may be struggling mentally with his or her hospital stay. Then, broadcasting and hosting virtual bingo for dozens of children on the hospital’s private television channel in the afternoon. The PTS would wrap up the day with a private virtual reality session that promotes physical therapy by encouraging the child to get out of the hospital bed and move their body within set boundaries.
“I appreciate being able to aid in bringing smiles to our patients when they aren’t in a situation they can control. Hospitals can be scary places for kids, and I appreciate being able to help make them a not so scary place after all,” Guerra said.
A recent study by the University of Utah suggests that video games could have a profound impact on the way hospitals deliver patient care; the report also indicated that video games can help patients with cancer, diabetes, asthma, depression, autism, Parkinson’s disease and more. The study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, also indicates that video games can be therapeutic and are already beginning to show health-related benefits. Pereira says he’s witnessed the benefits first-hand.
“We had a patient who was in our PICU who had lost fine muscle control in their hands,” Pereira recalled. “I was able to bring an adaptive controller set up for them to be able to play a video game. But they needed a second person to steer for them, who ended up being their mom when I wasn’t able to be present. I went out for the weekend and by the time I got back to the patient they had figured out a way to play completely on their own. It was really impressive to see how far the patient had progressed because gaming provided them a concrete goal. Throughout their recovery with us, they continued to try and recover as much fine motor control in order to play video games.”
Pereira and Guerra are busy growing the program. The two have already been able to spend more time in the outpatient care setting with children in the Methodist Children’s Hospital Cancer and Blood center. They hope to develop a gaming volunteer program, expand television programming to host events nearly every day of the week and more.
“Being able to put smiles on the faces of children through gaming is a very special privilege,” Guerra said. “From the little time I’ve been here, I’ve already experienced how important normalizing the hospital setting for our smallest patients is and the collaborative work among the departments to do so is amazing.”