Treating Needle Phobia In Virtual Reality

Treating Needle Phobia In Virtual Reality
December 3, 2016

Let’s be honest…Nobody likes getting a needle.


For some, it even turns into an extreme fear called Needle-phobia. It’s even worse when you watch your kid to go over that fear and pain.


Now, a new system, specially developed for young patients, is trying to overcome this problem by using virtual reality technology.


The use of the system is pretty basic.


A pediatric patient wears a lightweight, cardboard headset. Games are loaded onto a smartphone. Then the child is immersed in the world of an interactive display that takes their mind off the needle prick.


The result of the distraction technique allows doctors and nurses to do their work easier and safer.


The name behind this project is Jeremy Patterson, Interactive Architect at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Patterson worked with hemophilia patients as well as clinicians to customize every aspect of the virtual reality game system.


In a special interview for Haptical, we spoke with Patterson to understand the details of this innovative technique.

Photo Credit — Nationwide Children’s Hospital


How does this treatment system work?


There are three main pillars to the system. The custom VR games that are designed and built to be playable by patients who are receiving an intravenous procedure, the disposable headset which is customized to the unique mode of game play embodied in the custom VR games, and lastly the remote control dashboard which puts the clinician in control of all aspects of the patient experience in the VR environments.


When a patient comes into the clinic, they are randomized into either the standard of care or the VR intervention. If they randomize into the VR intervention, we give them their own VR headset that they use in clinic. They are also given a printed “menu”, which has pictures and descriptions of all of the destinations and activities in the Voxel Bay VR application.


The patient is free to choose which game or activity they want to try first, and then they can play for a bit before they are taken to another room to receive their lab work or infusions. The patient is allowed to play the games as much as they want during they procedure, and we can move them to any portion of Voxel Bay they want to try using the remote control dashboard we built.


Following their time in clinic, the nurse, the patient and the parent are asked a series of questions to see how they rated the experience and if, and how much, the VR experience may have helped them with cope with anxiety.


“The headset is designed to use inexpensive materials.”

Photo Credit — Nationwide Children’s Hospital


Is it expensive to use this infrastructure?


Right now the system is in a prototype stage, but the design takes into account future roadblocks to using the system at a larger scale.


One of those roadblocks will be cost, and efforts have been made to ensure that the VR system can be deployed and used at a low cost. For example, the headset is designed to use inexpensive materials and move to a manufacturing process would keep cost to a minimum.


The main hardware component in the headset is a removable, mobile device (and iPod Touch in this case), so there is a one time expense for the hardware purchase, and the hardware can be subsequently shared between users.


The other ongoing cost would be the development of new content to keep the audience engaged, as well as games and environments that are targeted at new patient populations.


How did you come up with the idea of using virtual reality to improve kid health treatment?


I had just attended the Games for Health conference in Boston in 2014. One of the talks there was about the use of SnowWorld by the US Military for the treatment of burn patients. When I came back here, this topic was hot in my mind.


I met with Dr Amy Dunn and we discussed the unique needs of her patient population, patients with hemophilia, and applying VR to her patients while receiving infusions hit both of us as being an effective intervention to make their infusion processes go more smoothly.


Who else worked in this project?


Dr. Amy Dunn, who is the clinician researcher on the project, along with Charmaine Biega who is the individual that received the the National Hemophilia Nursing Excellence award that is funding the current trial. The design and development team includes myself along with John Luna and Alice Grishchenko who designed and built the game. The headset was designed and fabricated by Robert Strouse, our resident industrial designer.


What are the key findings so far?


The study is still underway, so there are no concrete findings to report at this point. One observation, however, is that for the most part the kids, and parents, have loved the games and the experience. It has been extremely rewarding on our part to see this in action.


“We always need to be thoughtful and cautious any time we apply technology to a problem space.”

Photo Credit — Nationwide Children’s Hospital


Is there an age limit?


Yes, we are currently testing with children ages 6–17. We used used the guidance of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which at the time stated that there should be no screen time for children under the age of 6. They have since revised this guidance, but this was after the trial started.


Are you planning to distribute this project?


That is definitely part of the plan. Since the system is performing extremely well thus far in the trial, our dream would be to move it to other clinical areas within our own institution, and then move it externally to home care and other institutions. We are starting to look into the logistics of the next steps to begin to bring this to a wider audience. Exactly how this will take shape is currently unknown, but we certainly want to see this happen in the future.


Technology is not always the solution to a problem, sometimes applying technology can make a problem much worse. We always need to be thoughtful and cautious any time we apply technology to a problem space.


All of this really informs how I approach every project in a very fundamental way. I would have to say that this VR project is as close to a perfect manifestation of these ideals that I have ever had the opportunity of being involved with. It’s definitely the project I am most proud of.

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