VR Reduces the Need for Sedation During Surgery by Up to 90%, Finds Research

The technology could provide a valuable drug-free alternative for pain management.

When we think of virtual reality it is usually as a fun entertaining activity. It turns out however the technology can have some interesting useful applications.

One such application is as a pain reduction method for patients undergoing locoregional anesthesia for orthopedic surgeries. The technology, it seems, significantly relaxes the patients reducing the need for intravenous sedation by up to 90%.

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Safer Pain Management

Called virtual reality hypnosis distraction (VRHD), the technique could provide a valuable drug-free alternative for pain management free of the negative effects of traditional intravenous sedation.

"Given the immersive and distracting nature of the virtual reality experience, this technology has the ability to act as a preventive intervention transforming local anesthesia into a less distressing and potentially pain-free medical procedure", says Dr Dragos Chirnoaga from CUB Erasmus Hospital, Brussels, Belgium who co-led the research.

To test whether VRHD could aid during surgery the team looked at a randomized trial of 60 adults scheduled for orthopedic surgery. They put 40 of them through a VRHD therapy that consisted of wearing virtual reality goggles and headphones and watching a relaxing video.

The video showed content of a "submarine ride and life under the sea, with a calming voice guiding the journey and focused on slowing the patient's breathing rhythm." They then separated the patients in three groups.

In the control group, 20 patients were only administered standard intravenous sedation with no VRHD. In the second group, 20 patients were subjected to VRHD during locoregional anesthesia, and intravenous sedation was provided if patients reported pain scores of greater than 3 out of 10. 

Finally, in the third group, another 20 patients were subjected to VRHD before and during locoregional anesthesia was used, and intravenous sedation given if patients reported pain scores greater than 3.

Up to 90%

Impressively, only 25% of patients receiving VRHD during anesthesia required intravenous sedation. That percentage was even lower, only 10%, for patients given VRHD both before and during the anesthesia.

Before and after the procedure, all the patients reported similar comfort and satisfaction levels.

"Virtual reality hypnosis distraction is feasible, well tolerated, and liked by patients", says Dr Delphine Van Hecke from CUB Erasmus Hospital, Brussels who co-led the study.

"While it is not clear exactly how virtual reality works to reduce anxiety and pain, it's thought that it creates a distraction that stops the mind feeling pain. Further studies should focus on other procedures suited for the use of VRHD, particularly its potential benefit in children as premedication or during low pain procedures."

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