Virtual Reality is Transporting Sick Kids to Outer Space

VR Alleviating Anxiety and Pain for Pediatric Patients

Hospitals around North America are offering injured, sick, and cancer-stricken kids an opportunity to live out a fantasy or do “battle” with their sickness. VR is bringing wonderful possibilities of imagination to kids who need it the most. Hope for a brighter day being stuck in a place most of us avoid at all cost!

C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital, Michigan

Transforming the hospital experience, the Child and Family Life team at Mott enhance and support healing with technology using various platforms. VR, AR, and video games transport patients away from the pain of their everyday to a place where they aren’t restricted by illness and all the procedures that come along with it.

The team at C. S. Mott have discovered a myriad of benefits to VR, AR, and gaming such as:

  • Encouraging normalization and socialization through cooperative play
  • Encouraging problem solving, fine motor movement, and critical thinking
  • Reducing isolation from loved ones that are not at the hospital.

Doctors, nurses, families, and patients all agree that even a moment of time where illness or injury are not the focus is priceless.

SickKids: Toronto, Canada

Young Girl in Hospital Bed with VR GogglesIn Toronto, Canada the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), in partnership with tech giant Samsung has a dedicated space to VR and AR. SickKids is using Samsung Gear devices to facilitate play to enhance the well-being of patients and their families. A visit to the 9th floor offers trips to outer space and AR mobile games.

SickKids has used VR in the past to minimize anxiety pre-procedure with very positive response. To help patients become more familiar with operating and recovery rooms, MRI and x-ray equipment and the sights and sounds the even developed a VR app called Childlife VR. It’s a mobile app designed for Google Cardboard.

CHARIOT: Palo Alto, California

At Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, Palo Alto, CA, is easing pain and anxiety for patients undergoing routine procedures using virtual reality technology. As one of the first hospitals in the country to implement “distraction based VR therapy” Packard’s CHARIOT (Childhood Anxiety Reduction through Innovation and Technology) program’s co-founder, Sam Rodriguez, MD said, “many kids associate the hospital with things they deem stressful and scary. We are finding that the ability to distract these patients with fully immersive, fun, and relaxing sensory environments can have a significant impact on the anxiety and pain that they experience during minor procedures, dressing changes and other medical treatments.”

Young Male Patient in Long Term Hospital Playing VRCHARIOT founders, working with software engineers are creating VR content specifically for kids. Spaceburgers, their first game, transports the patient to outer space where they zap objects flying toward them. Doctors and nurses can adjust the intensity of the “distraction” during the most intensive or painful parts of the procedure, like removing bandages or a needle poke.

They also have more passive “games”, like aquarium settings where the wearer feels submerged in a beautiful, peaceful underwater world. Another allows the patient to board a paper airplane and soar through the skies.

CHARIOT is using VR on patients as young as 6 for a variety of procedures such as imaging, pre-op, and general surgery. By the end of 2017 all acute care units, ambulatory surgery clinics, and labor and delivery will be equipped with the VR distraction therapy.

What’s Next?

The limits of VR in medicine are virtually (pun intended) limitless. Whether patients are using it as comfort and distraction from pain and anxiety, or doctors are using it to improve their understanding of procedures or further dissecting anatomy, the technology is here to stay and will only improve with time.

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