Nobody likes being in a hospital – least of all children. And if the medical treatment is painful, it gets worse. But researchers have found a solution in the form of virtual reality technology. Investigators at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles have conducted a study to determine if virtual reality can be effectively used for pain management during blood draw. Their findings showed that VR significantly reduced patients’ and parents’ perception of acute pain, anxiety and general distress during the procedure.
“Given the immersive and engaging nature of the VR experience, this technology has the capacity to act as a preventative intervention transforming the blood draw experience into a less distressing and potentially pain-free medical procedure, particularly for patients with more anxiety about having their blood drawn,” said researcher Jeffrey I Gold. While previous research supported the effectiveness of distraction during painful procedures, specifically needle pain, the investigators hypothesised that the new VR technology, an arguably more powerful and immersive intervention could be even more effective at reducing pain and anxiety.
Gold and study co-author Nicole E Mahrer theorized that ‘VR analgesia’ or pain control originates from the neurobiological interplay of the parts of the brain that regulate the visual, auditory, and touch sensory experience to produce an analgesic effect. For the study, they recruited patients, ages 10 to 21 years, the patient’s caregiver and the phlebotomist in the outpatient blood draw clinic, and randomised them to receive either standard of care, which typically includes a topical anesthetic cream or spray and a movie playing in the room, or standard of care plus the virtual reality game when undergoing routine blood draw.
Looking at pre-procedural and post-procedural standardized measures of pain, anxiety and satisfaction, researchers found that VR is feasible, tolerated, and well-liked by patients, their parents and the phlebotomists. “Ultimately, the aim of future VR investigations should be to develop flexible VR environments to target specific acute and chronic pain conditions,” added Gold. The results are published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.
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