Immersive virtual reality (VR) headsets may reduce the amount of anesthetic that patients need during a procedure, a study has found.
Scientists at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Massachusetts, United States examined 34 patients undergoing hand surgery.
They split the patients into two, with one group given a VR headset that immersed the wearer into relaxing programs, while the other patients went without.
The chill programs included 360-degree views of beautiful outdoor areas such as mountaintops, forests, or even a meditation area.
During the elective operation, the patients were able to request a sedative at any time during the procedure, and the group wearing VR goggles requested a lower dosage than the control group who did not use VR.
According to Engadget, while the non-VR-wearing patients required 750.6 milligrams per hour of the sedative propofol, the patients who were enjoying a VR app only required 125.3 milligrams. Not only that, but the VR patients also recovered from the anesthesia earlier than the others.
Scientists believe that VR distracted the patients from the pain emanating from their hand and hope that it will lead to reducing cases of over-sedation which can produce nasty side effects.
“With the increase in the amount of time people spend at the keyboard combined with our aging population, there is a projected increased need for common elective hand surgeries,” says senior author and anesthesiologist Dr. Brian P. O’Gara.
“Optimizing care for these patients will undoubtedly involve modification to anesthetic practices. Virtual reality’s purported benefit in the management of patients with pain or anxiety is through providing an immersive experience capable of distracting the mind from processing the unpleasantries associated with undergoing surgery.”
Is VR a Drug-Free Pain Solution?
This is not the first time VR has been experimented with as an alternative to anesthesia. In 2018, graduate students at St Joseph’s Hospital in France designed an immersive experience to help patients relax and increase their pain tolerance.
“It enables us to offer patients a technique to distract their attention and curb their pain and anxiety when being treated in the emergency room…I think in 10 years, virtual reality won’t even be a question anymore, and will be used in hospitals routinely,” Dr. Olivier Ganasia told Engadget.
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