Researchers led by Ohio State University have found that smartphone-based virtual reality (VR) games can relieve pain from burn injuries in children and adolescents while having their dressings changed.
For the study, the research team recruited 90 children and adolescents aged between 6 and 17. Most of these patients were receiving outpatient care for second-degree burns. Each was randomly split into three treatment groups while having their dressings changed.
The first group was asked to play a VR smartphone game. The second group was asked to watch the gameplay of the VR smartphone game. Meanwhile, the third group underwent standard care ie. receiving toys or tablets. Dressing changes lasted for between 5 and 6 minutes.
The game, known as ‘Virtual River Cruise’, was specially designed for the study by Nationwide CHildren’s Research Information Solution and Innovation department. The game designers honed in on two factors for the game’s design. The first was that it should be in a snowy, cooling environment. The second factor was that it should demand cognitive processing to encourage active engagement.
Patients and caregivers were asked to report their perceived pain and subjective experience with the game and other treatments in post-intervention surveys. Nurses also evaluated the game’s clinical utility.
In the end, the researchers found that children who played the VR game had the lowest overall pain scores. Most patients and caregivers reported a positive experience with the game, saying it was ‘fun, engaging, and realistic.’ The nurses also found the game clinically useful.
Dr Henry Xiang, the lead author of the study, says that such VR games could also be used to reduce pain during burn dressing changes at home. In future research, he hopes that studies will investigate whether smartphone-based VR games have an opioid-sparing effect.