Sometimes it’s not the latest technology or complex policy change, but the simplest acts of humanity that have the most significant impact on patients. The Boston Globe recently visited the intensive care unit (ICU) at Massachusetts General Hospital, where that comfort takes shape with an elite group of therapy dogs who have paid visit to patients there for more than a decade. Though these highly trained dogs are commonly used throughout medicine, MGH is one of the country’s few hospitals where canine companions can be found bringing comfort to the sickest patients in the ICU. 

Care providers say this level of planning and preparation reaps untold rewards for people in the ICU—patients waiting for transplants or surgery, or recovering from life-threatening illness. After visits with the dogs, patients report less anxiety, pain, and fatigue, and care teams observe improved mobilization among the patients through physical interaction with the animals. “They are usually so much cheerier,” notes Susan Gordon, a MGH Cardiac Care nurse. 

Though research at MGH and other institutions has noted the physical benefits of dog therapy programs, there is little formal data on their effect among ICU patients specifically. While a research protocol is being developed to better track medical benefits, the dogs are helping to ease the loneliness, isolation, and fear that so commonly mark patients’ stay in the ICU. 

Read more about the MGH pet therapy in The Boston Globe.

Photos by Jessica Rinaldi, The Boston Globe

Tags: Behavioral Health, Patient Experience, Academic Medical Centers