Patients immersed in virtual reality during surgery may need less anesthetic

Patients immersed in virtual reality during surgery may need less anesthetic

Immersing patients into virtual reality could reduce the need for local anesthesia.

A team of researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston split 34 patients undergoing elective hand surgery into two equal-size groups. One group received a VR headset, and the other was left without. The VR programs included 360-degree views of a peaceful meadow, mountaintop, or forest; guided meditation; or videos played against the backdrop of a starry sky.

The VR group requested significantly lower levels of the sedative propofol–in this case used to numb the pain in the hand– than the non-VR group. They received 125.3 milligrams per hour, in comparison to an average of 750.6 milligrams per hour during the study, described in PLoS ONE. The VR group also left the post-anesthesia recovery unit more quickly, spending an average of 63 minutes versus 75 minutes for the non-VR group.

The researchers believe that the VR group required lower levels of anesthetic due to their greater distraction than those without virtual visual stimuli. The team admits that it is possible that the VR group could have entered surgery believing that VR would prove to be effective. This possibility will be explored in future trials.

Reducing anesthesia can reduce hospital stays and lower the chance of complications. It could also help save money on drugs.

The team plans to conduct a second trial with patients undergoing hip or knee surgery. This will allow them to explore whether VR can help reduce anxiety during operations, according to Adeel Faruki (an assistant professor in anesthesiology) at the University of Colorado.

There is growing evidence that VR can be used as a surgical aid, according to Brenda Wiederhold, cofounder and CEO of the Virtual Reality Medical Center. She was not part of the study. Medical experts would need to monitor patients for Cyber Sickness, which can be caused by VR.

There are many uses for VR and surgeries like pre- and post-cardiac surgery, and cesarean births. Wiederhold says

VR can be useful during medical procedures as well as afterward, by reducing the chance of chronic pain. She says, “That’s quite exciting.”

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