Hospitals find success using virtual reality to manage pain

Man with VR headset on
Virtual reality could be a viable alternative therapy for patients in pain or who have anxiety.

Hospitals across the country are testing virtual reality programs as a way to manage patients’ pain and reduce the use of opioids. 

Researchers from hospitals like Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital are piloting virtual reality programs for pain and anxiety management in both children and adults, according to an article from The Wall Street Journal.

NewYork-Presbyterian is testing the technology on burn patients, whose pain is notoriously hard to control, and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is using it to help children feel more at ease with blood draws or injections.

“Virtual reality hasn’t been used as widely as it should be,” Hunter Hoffman, Ph.D., a VR expert and researcher at the University of Washington said. But now,the industry is “at the transition phase between research and clinical practice.”

At Cedars-Sinai, one Crohn's disease patient told the WSJ that using the virtual reality headset between doses of the painkiller Dilaudid eased discomfort during those gaps. 

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Researchers at Cedars-Sinai compared patients who used VR to manage pain to those who watched relaxation programs on standard televisions and saw the pain scores for the virtual reality users drop by 24%.

As providers scramble to reduce opioid prescriptions, virtual reality programs could be a viable alternative therapy, the researchers found.

Tufts Medical Center has also found success in relaxing anxious patients before surgical procedures. The hospital’s program allows patients a 360-degree view of the hospital prior to the surgery and can improve their knowledge about the procedure.