VR Used To Help Children Cope With Needle Phobia

There are a growing number of applications for virtual reality (VR), particularly in areas relating to medical and healthcare. One of the latest is using VR to help children deal with their phobia of needles.

SBS News reported that the technology is being trialled in two hospitals in Melbourne, Australia, to help children who are scared of needles have a less stressful experience when they need to have an injection or have blood samples taken.

It appears to have made a significant difference for some of the children on the trial. The news provider spoke to Rachelle Stewart whose 12 year old son Kai has cystic fibrosis. As a result of his condition, he has to have blood samples taken twice a year, a procedure that both he and his mum dread.

Kai would normally kick and scream during blood tests, but with the VR technology he’s now taken for a dive in the ocean while the procedure is carried out and is much calmer.

Ms Stewart said: “There’s nothing worse than seeing your child scared, distressed or in pain, so anything that helps calm them down and minimise pain is a huge win not only for the kids, but also for us as parents.”

More than 250 children aged four to 11 took part in the trial across the two hospitals. All of those involved were having intravenous cannulation or blood taken in the emergency or pathology departments.

Using VR during these procedures was found to reduce pain by 40 to 60 per cent, as well as reducing anxiety by 35 to 45 per cent for the children involved.

There was also a big impact on parents, with the VR technology cutting parent-rated distress by 75 per cent. Many of the children who participated in the trial wanted to use it again.

Simon Cohen, paediatric pain specialist at the Monash Children’s Hospital, told the news provider that the trial demonstrates how distraction can be a beneficial technique to employ when looking for ways to manage pain for children.

“By improving these experiences, we can help both children and parents who require anxiety-provoking and painful but necessary treatments,” he asserted.

It isn’t only children who benefit from distraction as a pain management technique, as a recent article for the New York Times pointed out.

Many medical facilities are exploring its use to help people with a range of conditions. It’s even being used as a way of improving the effectiveness of treatments like physical therapy, hypnosis and cognitive behavioural therapy for those who suffer from debilitating chronic pain.

Larry Benz, a physical therapist and chief executive of Confluent Health, told the newspaper that VR alone isn’t enough in this instance. But he explained why it’s so effective when paired with other therapies that are known to work.

“If I teach you in a virtual environment, you’re more likely to retain it, engage with it and fully comply with what you’ve been taught. When you’re fully immersed in a virtual environment, it’s like a ‘brain hack’ - you can’t be engaged with anything else,” Dr Benz said.

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