Researchers have spent decades working to prove that virtual reality is a viable method of pain reduction for a variety of injuries.
Graduate students in Paris are hoping to make patients feel a bit easier about emergency procedures through their "Healthy Mind" project, which involves using virtual reality (VR) to distract from pain.
Olivier Ganansia, head of the emergency department at the Saint-Joseph Hospital, told Reuters the program "enables us to offer patients a technique to distract their attention and curb their pain and anxiety when being treated in the emergency room."
For over 20 years, researchers and doctors have tested VR in a number of different ways related to healthcare, the report said, but this project is one of the first involving emergency care. It's also being explored as a potential alternative to prescription medication, which is exacerbating an opioid crisis claiming almost 100 lives a day in the US.
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One of the leaders of the project, Reda Khouadra, told Reuters that patients put on a pair of VR goggles and are taken to a far away land while undergoing procedures ranging from stitches, to burn treatment and joint dislocations. Researchers have already found that patients have a higher pain tolerance when using the VR.
"What we offer is a contemplative world where the patient goes on a guided tour, in interactive mode, to play music, do a bit of painting or work out a riddle," she told Reuters.
Healthy Mind has already received a $20,000 prize from a university in Adelaide, Australia and is headed to Seattle to meet with representatives from Microsoft, the report said.
VR has already been used in a study by dentists to distract from painful tooth extractions and other procedures, with researchers finding that contact with nature, even in a poorly-rendered VR world, produced noticeable reductions in pain.
"Our research supports the previous positive findings of VR distraction in acute pain management, and suggests that VR nature can be used in combination with traditional [medication]," the UK researchers wrote.
Doctors in France have also used VR for people who become paraplegics due to a spinal injury, deploying the technology to address the phantom pain that doctors have yet to cure.
Howard Rose and Hunter Hoffman have worked since the 1990s to bring VR to healthcare, immediately seeing its potential benefits for those with phobias or psychological disorders. Their signature accomplishment amongst many is SnowWorld, a VR game designed specifically for burn victims. The use of blue and white colors helped relieve victims of the trauma of reliving what happened to them every time their wounds were cleaned.
"Acute pain is a perfect match for VR. You only need it for 20 minutes and it has drastic effects. If you say, 'go home and meditate,' not many patients will follow through," Hoffman told Wired. "But if you give them a VR system and say 'go into this ancient world and meditate with monks,' they're more likely to actually do it."
Ganansia said patients should expect to see VR used routinely in hospitals within the next 10 years. As the price of VR equipment drops, more and more researchers will have the ability to test its viability in a variety of settings.
The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- Researchers in France have tested VR in emergency rooms and found it had a marked effect on pain management and reduction.
- VR is now being used in many different medical settings, and as the price of the devices drop, it will become more common in healthcare.
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