For graduating ENMED physicianeer Ryan Nguyen, working to help patients who display symptoms of delirium is an outgrowth of his journey toward becoming a neurologist.
The enterprising Texan from Plano discovered firsthand on a neurological rotation just how difficult it can be for medical staff to provide care to delirium patients. He saw how the condition results in confused thinking and a lack of awareness of surroundings in such patients, among other symptoms.
The disorder can arise quickly in elderly patients in the hospital, resulting in some becoming confused and even angry. “When a patient is sick and in an unfamiliar situation, the brain may not function as well as it would in normal circumstances,” Nguyen said. “Patients can sometimes have severe anxiety and distrust those around them. It is extremely debilitating.”
Caregivers must be in place around the clock to care for such people, which is expensive and logistically difficult for caregiving institutions. “We began to wonder what if there was a way for patients to chat with Amazon’s Alexa,” Nguyen said. “This would be a way to stay engaged. And, the patient can talk with the device endlessly.”
Alexa devices had been installed as digital assistants in the rooms of patients across the hospital. Nguyen noticed that patients with symptoms of delirium who kept up a dialogue with the device while healing from surgeries seemed to recovery more quickly. “It appeared to prove helpful in keeping patients in touch with where they were, the time of day and when they would be eating meals,” Nguyen said. “Some patients seemed less agitated when interacting with their caregivers.”
That’s what triggered the creation of a project which Nguyen proposed to Methodist Hospital neurologist Eugene Lai, M.D., Ph.D., a renowned specialist in various neurogenerative diseases, to study the device with delirium patients. A proposal is awaiting approval from the hospital’s Institutional Review Board for a clinical trial. In that scenario, a group of patients can be evaluated using the device while a second group will not have the device. “Will the patients who use Alexa progress better?” Nguyen asked rhetorically. “We hope to prove it can be a safe and effective way to augment care.”
Nguyen, 33, who earned his undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering at Texas A&M, is soon off to Minnesota where he was matched to the prestigious Mayo Clinic School of Graduate Medical Education in Rochester to continue studying neurology. The married father of a son, 3, and one-year-old daughter, enjoys rock climbing, running and cycling in his time off.