Can virtual reality be used to manage pain at a pediatric hospital?

November 7, 2017, Children's Hospital Los Angeles

Virtual reality has emerged into popular culture with an ever-widening array of applications including clinical use in a pediatric healthcare center. Children undergo necessary yet painful and distressing medical procedures every day, but very few non-pharmaceutical interventions have been found to successfully manage the pain and anxiety associated with these procedures. Investigators at Children's Hospital Los Angeles have conducted a study to determine if virtual reality (VR) 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. The results of the study are published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

"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 , particularly for patients with more anxiety about having their blood drawn," said Jeffrey I. Gold, PhD, the director of the Pediatric Pain Management Clinic at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

While previous research supported the effectiveness of distraction during painful procedures, specifically needle pain, the investigators hypothesized 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, PhD, of the Department of Anesthesiology Critical Care Medicine at CHLA, theorize 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 randomized 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 game when undergoing routine blood draw. Looking at pre-procedural and post-procedural standardized measures of , anxiety and satisfaction, researchers found that VR is feasible, tolerated, and well-liked by patients, their parents and the phlebotomists.

"VR, especially immersive VR, draws heavily on the limited cognitive resource of attention by drawing the user's attention away from the hospital environment and the medical procedures and into the virtual world," said Gold who is also a professor of Anesthesiology, Pediatrics, and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Given the significant concerns about problematic opioid use, evidence-based support for non-pharmaceutical inventions may lead to use of VR for during certain and a decreased need for narcotics.

"Ultimately, the aim of future VR investigations should be to develop flexible VR environments to target specific acute and ," added Gold.

Explore further: People tend to overestimate pain from surgery

More information: Jeffrey I. Gold et al, Is Virtual Reality Ready for Prime Time in the Medical Space? A Randomized Control Trial of Pediatric Virtual Reality for Acute Procedural Pain Management, Journal of Pediatric Psychology (2017). DOI: 10.1093/jpepsy/jsx129

Related Stories

People tend to overestimate pain from surgery

November 3, 2017
(HealthDay)—Many patients overestimate the amount of pain they'll experience after surgery, resulting in needless anxiety, a new study reports.

Virtual reality therapy helps decrease pain in hospitalized patients

March 29, 2017
Virtual reality therapy is effective in significantly reducing pain for hospitalized patients, according to a new Cedars-Sinai study.

Systematic pain management needed for children in ER

October 29, 2012
(HealthDay)—Steps to manage pain and stress in pediatric emergency medical care are recommended, according to a clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published online Oct. 29 in Pediatrics.

From virtual reality to noise control—how to manipulate the senses to relieve pain

March 31, 2016
The next time you habitually search your bathroom cabinet for some pain medication, you may want to consider playing a video game first. Research has shown that psychology plays an important part in how we experience both ...

Distraction methods during blood draws have similar effectiveness

May 2, 2016
(HealthDay)—Three different distraction methods are not significantly different in terms of pain and anxiety reduction in children having their blood drawn, according to a study published online April 26 in the Journal ...

Recommended for you

Exposure to farmyard bugs reduces immune overreaction found in childhood asthma

September 24, 2018
Treating new born mice with farmyard microbes reduces wheezing and inflammation in the airways, by 'taming' their immune systems.

Stepfathers' 'Cinderella effect' challenged by new study

September 24, 2018
Long-held assumptions that stepfathers are far more likely to be responsible for child deaths than genetic parents have been challenged by researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Fatty acids can slow down an overheated immune system

September 21, 2018
Sometimes, the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's healthy tissue by responding to infections that do not exist. This causes chronic inflammation and leads to diseases including lupus (SLE), and this is what happens ...

Study shows surprise low-level ozone impact on asthma patients

September 21, 2018
A new study led by UNC School of Medicine researchers indicates that ozone has a greater impact on asthma patients than previously thought. The study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, recruited ...

Patient-centered visual aid helps physicians discuss risks, treatments with parents

September 21, 2018
A series of illustrations and charts designed as decision aids for parents of children with minor head injuries helped them communicate with emergency medicine physicians and make informed decisions about their child's care, ...

Fish-rich diets may boost babies' brain development

September 20, 2018
Women could enhance the development of their unborn child's eyesight and brain function by regularly eating fatty fish during pregnancy. This is the suggestion from a small-scale study led by Kirsi Laitinen of the University ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.