New Study Proves VR Reduces Pain in Hospital Patients

Cedars Sinai Hospital, Los Angeles

Today, the largest study to date at Cedars Sinai Hospital of the impact of virtual reality on pain relief was published in the open access scientific research journal PLOS ONE. This study provides the clearest evidence yet that in-hospital therapeutic VR could be an effective treatment for patients in pain.

Here’s a video narrated by Dr. Brennan Spiegel, the director of health research at Cedars Sinai and the lead author of today’s research paper, explaining how VR was used with patients:

The paper (which is freely available to anybody without a subscription to the journal) is titled Virtual reality for management of pain in hospitalized patients: A randomized comparative effectiveness trial, and had as its research objective:

Therapeutic virtual reality (VR) has emerged as an effective, drug-free tool for pain management, but there is a lack of randomized, controlled data evaluating its effectiveness in hospitalized patients. We sought to measure the impact of on-demand VR versus “health and wellness” television programming for pain in hospitalized patients.

Patients were split into two random groups. One group was treated with VR and the other (control) group viewed flat-screen relaxation television programming. The researchers concluded that the VR group reported significantly reduced pain when compared to those just watching TV. Not only that, the study found that virtual reality was the most effective for severe pain (i.e. pain that ranked 7 or higher on a scale of 1 to 10).

Mobi Health News reports:

“There’s been decades of research testing VR in highly controlled environments — university laboratories, the psychology department and so on,” Dr. Brennan Spiegel, director of health services research at Cedars-Sinai and the study’s lead author, told MobiHealthNews. “This study is really letting VR free and seeing what happens. What I mean by that is it’s a pragmatic study where we didn’t want to control every single element of the study, but literally just see [what would happen] if we were to give it to a broad range of people in the hospital with pain; how would it do compared to a control condition already available in the hospital?”

This strength — alongside the substantial size of the patient population, variety of pain types included and direct comparison to an existing multimedia intervention — helps make the clearest case yet for VR’s clinical potential within the hospital, Spiegel continued, and paves the way for live deployments of the technology as part of inpatient care.

“We don’t need more science at this point to justify deploying VR in the hospital or creating virtualist consult services in the hospital. We’ve got enough evidence now, in my opinion, to begin using this in the inpatient environment,” he said. 

Citation: Spiegel B, Fuller G, Lopez M, Dupuy T, Noah B, Howard A, et al. (2019) Virtual reality for management of pain in hospitalized patients: A randomized comparative effectiveness trial. PLoS ONE 14(8): e0219115. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0219115

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