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Virtual Reality Anesthesia: A Medical Game Changer

By Tuva Kateraas


When thinking about virtual reality, one may think about video games, wearing futuristic goggles, or holding two small oculus touch controllers. But what if virtual reality was able to reach the patient undergoing a craniometry in an operating room?


Hospitalized patients regularly experience physical distress that is intensified by the loss of independence, physical abilities, and a high prevalence of pain. There is an abundance of patients that frequently experience pain, in which nearly a quarter of patients report it to be unbearable [4]. However, preliminary studies that evaluated the pain-relieving effect of immersive virtual reality during periodontal procedures (a dental surgery that involves opening the flap of your gum, helping to minimize the spread of gum disease), show that immersive VR distraction may be an effective method of pain control [2].


VR anesthesia is the use of virtual reality as an alternative to pharmacological anesthesia. It creates an immersive experience that hinders the mind’s ability to process acute pain. Additionally, this has been shown to be a simpler method in reducing pain scores for patients with any pain greater than a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10. Today, virtual reality is used to help with anxiety disorders, controlling pain, supporting physical rehabilitation, and distracting patients during wound care [4]. VR anesthesia during surgeries and procedures in the operating room will work in a similar way. Essentially, it is a distraction to limit the patient’s processing of stimuli by stimulating the visual, auditory, and proprioception senses. This virtual reality technology used in VR anesthesia provides a multi-sensory, three-dimensional, and hypnotic environment that allows patients to have simulated experiences of reality by creating a [false] sense of presence [4]. This means that patients will experience an augmented version of reality, allowing their mind to focus on the augmented world they are in and minimize the brain’s ability to interpret sensory signals as pain. When the mind is occupied with a unique and mesmerizing virtual world, the brain falls into a trance, forgetting about pain.


Mostly importantly, it aims to minimize pharmacological therapy and management which will reduce the risks associated with sedation during surgery. This will help decrease any amount of pain a patient may experience during a surgery. Though the research of VR anesthesia is still a new method to be explored, future studies on it depends on the further advancement of technology and sound methodology. If VR anesthesia is able to be used as a normal approach for patients during and after procedures or surgeries, patients may have a quicker recovery time in terms of physical and emotional distress.



References

  1. Faruki, A., Nguyen, T., Proeschel, S. et al. Virtual reality as an adjunct to anesthesia in the operating room. Trials 20, 782 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13063-019-3922-2

  2. Furman, E., Jasinevicius, T., Bissada, N., Victoroff, K., Skillicorn, R., & Buchner, M. (2014, December 29). Virtual Reality Distraction for Pain Control During Periodontal Scaling and Root Planing Procedures. Retrieved October 11, 2020, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0002817714615555?via=ihub

  3. Helfand, M., & Freeman, M. (2009, October 06). Assessment and Management of Acute Pain in Adult Medical Inpatients: A Systematic Review. Retrieved October 11, 2020, from https://academic.oup.com/painmedicine/article/10/7/1183/1839119

  4. Tashjian V., Mosadeghi S., Howard A., Lopez M., Dupuy T., Reid M., Martinez B., Ahmed S., Dailey F., Robbins K., Rosen B., Fuller G., Danovitch I., IsHak W., & Spiegel B. (2017). Virtual reality for management of pain in hospitalized patients: Results of a controlled trial. JMIR Men Health 4(1)


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