Virtual Reality: An Escape From Painful and Stressful Medical Treatments


Virtual Reality: An Escape From Painful and Stressful Medical Treatments

Virtual reality (VR) technology allows users to immerse themselves in a three-dimensional computer-generated environment, and despite its origins as a form of entertainment, VR has found a range of uses in health care over the last two decades. VR has shown promise in several clinical trials assessing its potential utility as a distraction tool to alleviate pain and distress during medical procedures, including treatment of phobias and anxiety disorders; cognitive and physical rehabilitation; pain management; treatment of eating disorders and obesity; surgical training and aid in surgical planning and performance.


A review article published recently in The Clinical Journal of Pain provides a comprehensive overview of clinical studies using virtual reality (VR) during a variety of painful and stressful medical procedures, including burn injury treatment, chemotherapy, surgery, dental treatment, and other diagnostic and therapeutic procedures.


“VR has proven to be very effective in relieving pain, even in patients who have undergone extremely painful procedures and have not received adequate relief from pharmacological treatments alone,” says Dr. Antonio Giordano, M.D., Ph.D., of the Sbarro Health Research Organization at Temple University and the University of Siena in Italy, and the article's corresponding author. “In addition, VR reduces cancer-related symptoms in a variety of situations, including chemotherapy. This is significant, given the importance of discovering interventions that improve treatment tolerance in order to improve patients' quality of life as well as their adherence to therapy, which can boost their chances of recovery."


"Despite these promising results," study author Paola Indovina of the Institute for High Performance Computing and Networking, ICAR-CNR, Naples, says, "more studies involving a larger number of patients are needed both to generalize the observations and to establish predictive factors to select patients who are more likely to benefit from VR." “In addition, greater effort should be placed into assessing changes in physiological variables, which might give objective confirmations of the patients' self-report measurements. In addition, additional research into VR efficacy after multiple repeated sessions is needed to determine the VR intervention's potential long-term benefits.”


“It's also worth noting that most previous studies used relatively low-tech VR systems compared to today's state-of-the-art systems, which are more immersive, user-friendly, portable, and much less expensive,” says coauthor Giuseppe De Pietro, Director of the Institute for High Performance Computing and Networking, ICAR-CNR, Naples, Italy. “As a result, VR has the potential to become both more effective and more widely adopted.”


Dr. Antonio Giordano is the President and Founder of the Sbarro Health Research Organization (SHRO), which conducts research to diagnose, treat and cure cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses.