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Virtual Reality Helps Decrease Hospitalized Patient’s Pain

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 11 Apr 2017
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Image: The Samsung Gear Oculus VR headset creates a virtual reality (Photo courtesy of Samsung).
Image: The Samsung Gear Oculus VR headset creates a virtual reality (Photo courtesy of Samsung).
Experiencing calming video content in virtual reality (VR) can significantly reduce pain for hospitalized patients, according to a new study.

Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center conducted a comparative cohort study in 100 medical inpatients with an average pain score higher than 3/10 from any cause. The 50 patients in the study cohort viewed a calming three-dimensional (3D) VR video via the Samsung Gear Oculus VR headset; 50 control patients viewed a high-definition (HD) nature video on a 14-inch bedside screen. The researchers recorded pre- and post-intervention pain scores.

The results showed that 65% of the patients in the VR cohort achieved a pain response, compared to 40% of controls. Patients in the VR group, who experienced helicopter rides over Iceland or imagery of swimming in the ocean with whales, reported a 24% drop in pain scores. Patients who viewed the standard HD nature video depicting relaxing scenes with a calming music audio track on the close-proximity screen reported a pain decrease of 13.2%. The study was published on March 29, 2017, in JMIR Mental Health.

“Results indicate virtual reality may be an effective tool along with traditional pain management protocols. This gives doctors and patients more options than medication alone,” said senior author Brennan Spiegel, MD, MSHS, director of Cedars-Sinai's Health Service Research. “We believe virtual reality hijacks the senses, but in a good way. It creates an immersive distraction that stops the mind from processing pain, offering a drug-free supplement to traditional pain management.”

VR technology provides an immersive, multisensory, and 3D environment that enables users to have modified experiences of reality by stimulating the visual, auditory, and proprioception senses. VR has already been used to help treat anxiety disorders, support physical rehabilitation, and distract patients during wound care. For example, VR coupled with medication is effective in decreasing pain during bandage changes for severe burns, and provides positive distraction during routine procedures such as intravenous line placements and dental procedures.

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