Virtual reality (VR) reduces pain and anxiety in children undergoing medical procedures. The corresponding study was published in Pediatrics by researchers from the University of Southern California and the Saban Research Institute at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
Earlier research has found that VR is a valid tool for non-pharmacological pain reduction and that it is preferred to standard pain reduction techniques. There has, however, been little research providing standardized experimental methodologies, systematic comparisons, and quantitative analysis of VR for pain relief.
In the current research, investigators conducted a randomized clinical trial of 107 patients aged 10 to 21 years old undergoing peripheral intravenous catheter (PIVC) placement. Patients were either given standard care or a VR intervention. Whereas VR intervention consisted of playing a game in VR, standard care included simple distraction techniques such as music, coloring, singing or talking, and the application of a numbing cream.
Patients, caregivers, and clinicians completed pre-PIVC and post-PIVC placement questionnaires on aspects including patient pain, anxiety, and anxiety sensitivity. This, say the researchers, is one of the first studies to analyze the effects of VR from the patient perspective as well as that of the clinician and the patient’s family or caregivers.
All in all, the researchers found that those who received the VR intervention had significantly lower post-PIVC anxiety and pain scores, as reported by patients, caregivers, and clinicians. The researchers also mentioned that, apart from lower levels of baseline pain and anxiety, no demographic variables could explain the lower levels of pain and anxiety.
“We can actually reduce pain without the use of a medication,” said Jeffrey I. Gold, PhD., lead investigator of the study, “The mind is incredibly powerful at shifting focus and actually preventing pain from being registered. If we can tap into that, we can make the experience much better for our kids.”
“We care about the healthcare experience that children have. By reducing fear associated with routine procedures, we prepare the child to begin treatment with a more positive outlook, and this can affect their health for a lifetime, “ he added.