Use of VR in pediatric setting leads to less reported needle pain

A new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that patients using a VR system reported less pain when being treated with a needle than their counterparts who received the standard of care.
By Laura Lovett
01:37 pm

Needles can be a source of stress for many patients, particularly in the pediatrics department. But a new study found that employing virtual reality in pediatric care can help children manage pain, according to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics

The new study, which zeros in on the use of virtual reality in pediatric emergency departments and outpatient clinics, found that patients given the VR system reported less pain than their peers in the standard-of-care group. 

“Virtual reality reduced pain, anxiety, and distress in comparison with SOC in both ED and pathology, supported by the finding that fewer people were required to restrain children. Benefits were consistent in qualitative and quantitative analyses,” authors of the study wrote. “Adverse effects were rare and minor."


All participants were asked to report their pain on a Faces Pain Scale-Revised (FPS-R), which lets children chose from a zero to 10 scale. 

Patients in the emergency department who used VR experienced decreased pain from baseline compared to those in the standard-of-care group. In fact, participants in the standard of care group saw no decrease in pain comparison from baseline, while participants in the VR group saw a 1.39 decrease in reported pain on the FPS-R. 

Meanwhile in the pathology group, both the the control and VR group experienced an increase in pain. However, VR group “exhibited a much smaller increased in pain from baseline.”

Researchers also noted that self-rated anxiety significantly decreased in both of the virtual reality groups, compared to the standard of care patients. 


Researchers used results from 123 emergency room patient participants. Of those, 59 were randomized into the standard-of-care group and 64 were put into the VR group. 

Additionally, researchers recruited 131 participants for the pathology group. Of those, 68 were put into the standard-of-care group and 63 were put into the virtual reality group. In both groups, the median age of the patient was eight years old. 

Patients in the ED had an intravenous cannula insertion, and patients in the pathology all had a venipuncture. Distraction therapy was used in 73% of standard of care cases in the ED. In the ED topical anesthetic was also used in 85% of the standard of care patients and 89% of the VR patients. 

The study, which took place at two Melbourne-Australia based hospitals, used a virtual reality tool, designed to look like an underwater world. Researchers developed the tool with input from various caregivers. 


This isn’t the first time that virtual reality has been employed in a pediatric setting. In October of 2017, the Journal of Pediatric Psychology published a paper demonstrating that a VR tool helped reduct acute procedural pain in patients compared to using the standard of care. 

Another way VR has been used in the pediatric space is to help kids visualize their condition. In February of 2018, Boston Children’s Hospital announced that it was teaming up with Klick Health to bring pediatric patients HealthVoyager, a medication education and patient experience platform that uses VR to show patients their individual medical findings in an immersive 3D environment. The trial focused on gastrointestinal patients. 


“The virtual reality intervention used was safe and effective in children aged 4 to 11 years, decreasing needle pain, anxiety, distress and the need for restraint in two hospital-based settings,” authors of the study wrote. “Future research could evaluate other pediatric needle contexts including ward inpatients, vaccination, finger pricks, repeated procedures, examine the role of specific content, and compare virtual reality with other distractions.”


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