VR reduces pain, anxiety in pediatric patients

Researchers from the at Children's Hospital Los Angeles have found virtual reality (VR) an effective tool in pediatric pain management during blood draws, according to a study published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

Previous research has provided evidence to VR’s capabilities in distracting patients during painful procedures. This study aimed to prove VR’s ability to reduce pain and anxiety. Researchers in this study evaluated how VR affects parts of the brain that regulate visual, auditory and touch to reduce pain and anxiety in pediatric patients.

"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 Jeffrey I. Gold, PhD, the director of the Pediatric Pain Management Clinic at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

The study enrolled 143 triads of patients ages 10 to 21, their caregivers and phlebotomists. Researchers split them into receiving standard care or standard care plus a VR game that is played during the blood draw. Results of pre- and post-procedural reports found patients the VR group experienced significantly lower levels of pain and anxiety. Additionally, VR was seen as a feasible tool and well-liked by patients.  

"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. “Ultimately, the aim of future VR investigations should be to develop flexible VR environments to target specific acute and chronic pain conditions.”