VR Could Lower The Need For Sedation During Surgery

Who needs drugs when you can meditate in a peaceful meadow during surgery?

We’ve seen immersive technology used for a variety of medical purposes over the years. This includes everything from augmented reality (AR) glasses EMTs can use to convey critical information to health centers to VR hospital tours designed especially for children. We are also starting to see immersive technology used as an alternative to anesthetics, which can sometimes cause unwanted side effects.

NOMADEEC Telemedicine
Credit: NOMADEEC Telemedicine

According to a report by MIT Technology Reviewhas a team of researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center published a study where VR technology was used to reduce pain for patients during surgery. As part of the experiment, a group of 34 patients undergoing elective hand surgery were divided into two equal groups.

One group was given VR headsets they could use to immerse themselves in a variety of relaxing content (guided meditation, peaceful forests, relaxing meadows), while the other group relied solely on anesthetics. The report states that those with VR entertainment requested significantly less sedation (125.3 milligrams per hour compared to an average of 750.6 milligrams per hour) compared to those without.

“VR use has expanded from the entertainment sector to the fields of medical education, rehabilitation and management of mental health and chronic pain,” the research team said in their report. “VR’s purported benefit in treating patients with pain or anxiety is through providing an immersive experience capable of distracting the mind from processing noxious stimuli.”

“Although VR has been shown to provide effective anxiolysis for minor procedures such as endoscopy and dressing changes, there is currently limited evidence to support the effectiveness of VR during surgery. In light of this, we conducted a randomized controlled clinical trial to investigate whether VR immersion could reduce the amount of sedatives administered during hand surgery with regional anesthesia and MAC compared to MAC alone.”

Credit: Fundamental VR

VR technology also had a noticeable impact on recovery time, with VR users spending around 63 minutes recovering as opposed to 75 minutes. While feedback has been positive, the team admits the results may have been skewed. Patients could have gone into their surgery already convinced that VR would help them with pain management. Still, these are some encouraging results.

For more information see the research team’s full report here.

Image credit: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

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