Virtual reality to relieve patients during surgery?

During surgery, immersing patients in virtual reality would reduce the amount of anesthetic used. Here is the conclusion of a new study. A team of researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston conducted tests on 34 patients undergoing elective hand surgery. They divided them into two equal groups. Only one of the groups was fitted with virtual reality (VR) headsets and offered a series of relaxing immersive programs to watch during the operation. These VR programs included 360-degree views of a meadow, a mountain peak or a peaceful forest as well as a meditation session or even videos broadcast with a starry sky as a backdrop.

Result: the group of patients equipped with virtual reality needed a much lower quantity of propofol, a sedative – used in this case to numb the pain of the hand – compared to the second group. They received 125.3 milligrams per hour of propofol compared to an average of 750.6 milligrams per hour for the non-VR group. This is what we can read in the scientific journal PLOS Onein which the study was published.
The researchers believe that patients in the VR group used lower levels of anesthetic agents because they were more distracted than participants who did not receive virtual visual stimuli. However, the scientists acknowledge that the patients in the first group may have gone into the operating room with the preconceived idea that VR would be effective. This possibility should be explored in future trials.


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Reducing the amount of anesthetic administered to a patient can have three benefits: shorten the length of hospital stays and reduce the risk of complications, while saving money on the cost of the drugs themselves.

Now, the team of researchers plans to conduct an upcoming test on patients undergoing hip or knee surgery. The goal is to continue the work on whether VR can actually help patients manage their anxiety during operations, says Adeel Faruki, an assistant professor of anesthesiology at the University of Colorado, who led the study.

There is growing evidence that virtual reality can be beneficial in surgery, says Brenda Wiederhold, co-founder of the Virtual Reality Medical Center. The latter did not participate in the study. However, medical experts will need to monitor patients to avoid “cyber motion sickness,” a form of motion sickness that VR triggers in some people.

“Virtual reality could be useful in many surgical procedures, such as cesarean sections and pre- or post-cardiac operations,” she adds. According to Brenda Wiederhold, VR could be beneficial not only during medical procedures but also afterwards, by reducing the risk of chronic pain. And to conclude: “It’s quite exciting”.

Article by Rhiannon Williams, translated from English by Kozi Pastakia.


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Virtual reality to relieve patients during surgery?

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