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Scientific research

Virtual Reality's healing touch for pain and anxiety in children's wards

Child wearing virtual reality (VR) headset in hospital

Investigating just how effective virtual reality can be when harnessed in paediatric departments to reduce pain and anxiety.

For many children, the mere thought of medical procedures can evoke feelings of discomfort, apprehension and anxiety. It’s not just the unfamiliar environment of a hospital or clinic, but also the anticipation of potential pain that can be daunting. However, in the ever-evolving landscape of healthcare, there’s a promising solution on the horizon for paediatric care: Virtual Reality (VR). But just how effective is Virtual Reality at reducing pain and anxiety for children undergoing medical procedures?

To advance our understanding of the efficacy of Virtual Reality as an intervention tool for alleviating pain and anxiety in children and youth undergoing medical procedures, Floris Q. Tas et al. from the Sophia Children’s Hospital, Netherlands, did a systematic review and meta-analysis as a contemporary extension to the prior study of Eijlers et al. (2019). Their study researched the dual purpose of VR: it included 26 articles of which 23 were focused on VR as a distraction tool during medical procedures and 4 investigated the use of VR as an exposure tool before medical procedures.

VR can act as a captivating distraction, drawing children into engaging virtual worlds and away from the immediate surroundings of a medical setting and it helps them to relax. This distraction can significantly reduce the perception of pain and discomfort.

Furthermore, VR can be used as a preparatory exposure tool, familiarising children with medical procedures, environments, and equipment. By virtually experiencing a procedure beforehand, children can gain a sense of familiarity, reducing fear and anxiety when it’s time.

The findings are clear: Virtual Reality can be a game-changer in paediatric care as research indicates that it significantly reduces pain and anxiety for children undergoing different medical procedures. The meta-analysis showed VR is a useful, customisable distraction tool as well as a useful exposure tool and that it’s easy-to-use in clinical practice, which allows for endless opportunities!