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Virtual Reality Distracts Procedural Pain and Distress

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 04 Apr 2018
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Image: The Gear Oculus VR headset creates a virtual reality (Photo courtesy of Samsung).
Image: The Gear Oculus VR headset creates a virtual reality (Photo courtesy of Samsung).
Virtual reality (VR) appears to be an effective distraction intervention to relieve pain and distress during various medical procedures, according to a new review of studies.

Researchers at Temple University (Philadelphia, PA, USA), the University of Siena (Italy), and other institutions conducted a broad literature search using the terms virtual reality, distraction, and pain. The review was designed to provide a framework for evaluating the utility of VR as a distraction medium for alleviating pain and distress during various medical procedures, such as treatment of burn injuries, chemotherapy, surgery, dental treatment, and additional diagnostic or therapeutic procedures. No date limit was applied.

The results revealed that VR can serve an effective means to reduce procedural pain, even in patients subjected to extremely painful procedures, such as those with burn injuries undergoing wound care and physical therapy. Moreover, VR seemed to even decrease cancer-related symptoms in different settings, including during chemotherapy. Only mild and infrequent side effects of VR distraction were reported. The review of studies was published on February 26, 2018, in The Clinical Journal of Pain.

“Despite these promising results, future long-term randomized controlled trials with larger sample sizes and evaluating not only self-report measures, but also physiological variables, are needed,” concluded senior author Giordano Antonio, MD, PhD, of Temple University, and colleagues. “Further studies are also required both to establish predictive factors to select patients who can benefit from VR distraction, and to design hardware/software systems tailored to the specific needs of different patients and able to provide the greatest distraction at the lowest cost.”

VR is an immersive, multisensory, three dimensional (3D) artificial environment that provides users with modified experiences of reality by stimulating the visual, auditory, and proprioception senses. Besides distracting patients during wound care, VR has already been used to help treat anxiety disorders and support physical rehabilitation.

Related Links:
Temple University
University of Siena


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