VR games reduce stress, anxiety in pediatric patients

Virtual reality (VR) technology has replaced anesthesia for pediatric patients at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, who have implemented distraction medicine to reduce pain and anxiety.

Pediatric care often involves high levels of stress, fear or anxiety for patients and their families. The Bedside Entertainment and Relaxation Theater (BERT) incorporates VR technology with interactive games to reduce patient feelings of stress.

"Many kids associate the hospital with things they deem stressful and scary," said pediatric anesthesiologist Sam Rodriguez, MD, co-founder of the CHARIOT program (Childhood Anxiety Reduction through Innovation and Technology. "We are finding that the ability to distract these patients with fully immersive sensory environments can have a significant impact on the anxiety and pain they experience during minor procedures, dressing changes and other medical treatments."

The VR system incorporates customized headsets paired to a smartphone with games that require limited movement so patients as young as six can play while undergoing procedures. Each game is customized to increase the level of distraction during the more stressful parts of the procedure, reducing levels of stress.

"Preliminary results have shown that kids tend to be more cooperative when they are engaged in VR, with less movement, less fear and sometimes even lower pain scores," concluded Rodriguez.