The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

VR and Distraction Therapy

News of a valuable study into the use of VR in distraction therapy.

If children have to undergo medical treatment, everyone wants to lessen their anxiety and pain. Imagine being able to accomplish that and – win/win – lower health care costs by reducing the time and resources needed to complete difficult procedures.

Starlight Children’s Foundation is the gold standard in both research and practice in making hospitalised children’s experiences more comfortable, with the mission of “delivering happiness to seriously ill children and their families.” Leeds Children’s Hospital is one of the UK’s largest specialist medical facilities for young people. Together, they set out to test whether virtual reality might be an improvement on current methods for “distraction therapy,” a technique used to improve patients’ experience and reduce their pain.

The study included two phases:

  1. Children had the option to view a video in VR as opposed to on a tablet
  2. Patients could play a game in VR or use other gaming, storytelling or projection devices.

A “health play specialist” delivered the therapy in all cases.

Leeds-based games studio and research consultancy Dubit contributed the VR headsets, preloaded with games the company had developed.

A report on the findings researched among 110 children (one of the largest UK medical VR studies) suggests that virtual reality is an effective form of distraction therapy.

95% of children chose VR over other distraction options. 92% found it easy to use.

More important, over 9 in 10 of those who used VR throughout treatment said it ameliorated potentially painful procedures. 87% said they felt little or no pain during treatment, and most described feeling relaxed and confident when using VR, rather than nervous or afraid. 81% said they’d like to use it again.

A less-anxious patient facilitates more efficient delivery of treatment, saving both time and money. With VR distraction, the average treatment took under eight minutes and, in most cases, just one attempt to deliver, lower than the averages for patients who chose other distraction options.

Weeks after the procedures, the researchers asked patients’ memories of the experience. 46% remembered it not hurting at all, and all the others said it hurt a little. Among those who used a different means of distraction, a quarter said they remember feeling no pain, most others recalled a little pain and one remembered it hurting a lot.

The next step is for Starlight and Leeds Children’s Hospital to expand the study to other sites and a larger cohort, to see if this very promising first exploration can have a sustained impact in supporting children in treatment.


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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)