Rather than using drugs to help manage pain for minor (yet painful) procedures such as stitches, burn treatments, or having a catheter inserted, patients can lose themselves in a virtual reality Zen garden among other things.
Nobody enjoys going to the emergency room because it inevitably means a lot of anxiety, discomfort, and probably quite a bit of pain. There are drugs to help manage that pain, but what if you were offered a virtual reality headset instead? That's exactly what's happening at the Saint-Joseph Hospital in Paris, France.
As Reuters reports, French start-up Healthy Mind is experimenting with offering VR instead of drugs in a bid to manage pain. By placing the patient in a realistic virtual world and distracting them with a guided tour, the ability to play music, solve riddles, or paint, their tolerance for pain increases.
It means that no drugs may be required for some of the more minor, yet still quite painful procedures such as having a cut stitched, getting a burn treated, or having a urinary catheter inserted. Anxiety is also reduced because you are experiencing something other than a scary emergency room and aren't being constantly reminded what's happening.
This alternative to drugs clearly works as Healthy Mind was awarded $20,000 from a university in Adelaide. The money is being used by the start-up to travel to Seattle and present the project to Microsoft. Could it be that as well as virtual reality, mixed reality headsets would work too, such as Microsoft's HoloLens?
Virtual reality as a way of managing pain is not a new idea. As far back as 2016 doctors were incorporating it into pain management for patients recovering from painful injuries. It's also being used to help soldiers returning from active duty to find relief from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It's also possible to supplement these immersive pain relief experiences with apps that offer mindfulness training and medical support, such as Ella.
As to the future of VR and pain management, Olivier Ganansia, head of the emergency department at the Saint-Joseph Hospital predicts, "I think in 10 years, virtual reality won't even be a question any more, and will be used in hospitals routinely."