By James Gamble
Virtual reality could be used to help calm anxious parents whilst their children undergo surgery.
American researchers who played parents’ natural landscapes and auditory prompts through a VR headset as they waited for their child’s operation to finish had their anxiety levels slashed by around a quarter.
The scientists behind the study, presented at the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) annual meeting in San Francisco, California, say their results could offer a cheap and effective anxiety-reducing technique for hospitals.
Three-quarters (74 percent) of caregivers reportedly experience anxiety prior to any surgical procedure their child undergoes.
However, despite this overwhelming evidence, interventions to treat caregiver anxiety have so far been implemented in a few hospitals.
Caregiver anxiety can also exacerbate the distress experienced by children before they have surgery, which can lead to uncooperative anesthetic inductions – the transition between an awake and an anaesthetized state – prolonged recovery, increased postoperative pain, delirium and decreased patient satisfaction.
The study, from scientists at Stanford University in California, involved 26 caregivers of children undergoing non-invasive or surgical procedures.
Just over half (54 percent) of the caregivers received the VR intervention, whilst the remaining caregivers were asked to simply pass the time in a waiting area with access to refreshments – often seen as the ‘standard of care’ in most hospitals.
The VR intervention involved guided, mindfulness meditation through a commercially-available headset.
The mindfulness application was developed by the Stanford Chariot Programme, a clinical and translational research program that develops novel uses for immersive technologies in pediatric care.
Computer-generated imagery of nature-based landscapes was projected to promote relaxation through both visual and auditory prompts.
Participants in the VR group were instructed to use the intervention at the commencement of their children’s procedures for six minutes.
Their anxiety levels were evaluated using several self-reported surveys at the start of their children’s procedures and immediately after the six-minute intervention.
Then, to assess their satisfaction, the VR group was asked to complete a four-question satisfaction survey.
Prior to receiving the intervention, the average anxiety level for caregivers in the VR group was 56.5, whilst the average for the standard-of-care group was 50.3 on a scale measuring degrees of anxiety from 0 to 100.
After receiving the intervention, the average anxiety level for the VR group dropped to 33.1, whilst the average for the standard-of-care group remained relatively level at 51.4.
Of the 14 caregivers who completed the VR satisfaction survey, 12 of them reported either being satisfied or strongly satisfied across all four satisfaction domains.
Dr. Thomas Caruso, the study’s senior author and a clinical professor of anaesthesiology, perioperative and pain medicine at Stanford University, said the results were proof that VR could be used by hospitals as an anxiety-reducing method in the future.
“When a child has a medical procedure, it is often emotionally unsettling for not just the patient, but the entire family,” Dr Caruso explained.
“By providing family-centered care, we aim to treat not just the patient, but also caregivers, who experience quite a bit of anxiety before, during and after surgery when a loved one is undergoing a procedure.
“Our findings demonstrated a significant reduction in anxiety when using VR, compared to our standard of care.
“Immersive technologies, such as virtual reality, offer new, non-pharmacologic treatment options for anxiety relief.
“Given the lowering costs of VR and its commercial availability, the results of this study suggest that hospitals seeking to provide family-centered care may consider VR as an effective, anxiety-relieving option for caregivers.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker