Trial shows efficacy of VR for pain management in hospital patients

Virtual reality is an effective therapy for managing pain in hospitalized patients, particularly for those experiencing severe pain.

That’s the finding of a prospective, randomized, comparative effectiveness trial of 120 adults conducted by researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

In the trial, half of the patients in the experimental group received a library of 21 VR experiences administered using the Samsung Gear Oculus headset fitted with a Samsung Galaxy S7 phone, while the other half of control patients viewed specialized television programming to promote health and wellness.

Specifically, the on-demand use of VR produced statistically significant improvements in pain (1.7 points lower on the pain scale on average) vs. the TV group. In addition, in a subgroup of patients with the most severe baseline pain, VR patients averaged three points lower than the TV group.

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“VR significantly reduces pain vs. an active control condition in hospitalized patients,” conclude the authors of an article in PLOS|ONE, reporting the trial’s results. “VR is most effective for severe pain. Future trials should evaluate standardized order sets that interpose VR as an early non-drug option for analgesia.”

Also See: Children’s Hospital L.A. uses virtual reality for pain management

“This is our largest and most ambitious VR study to date,” says Brennan
Spiegel, MD, director of Cedars-Sinai's Health Service Research, who brought VR to the medical center. “Our results support previous research that VR can meaningfully reduce pain using a non-addictive, drug-free treatment for people experience a range of different pain conditions.”

Spiegel and his team say they selected the Samsung Gear Oculus headset—for what they call the largest randomized trial of inpatient VR for pain management—because it is commercially available, widely used, relatively inexpensive, has minimal visual latency and offers an acceptable patient experience based on their previous research.

“Virtual reality is a mind-body treatment that is based in real science,” adds Spiegel. “It does more than just distract the mind from pain, but also helps to block pain signals from reaching the brain, offering a drug-free supplement to traditional pain management.”

“I believe that one day soon VR will be part of every doctor’s toolkit for pain management,” he predicts.

Going forward, Spiegel and his colleagues are conducting a study that involves patients who will use VR in their homes for 60 days.

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