Doctors Use Virtual Reality to Reduce Anxiety, Relieve Pain during Childbirth,

July 8, 2019 Providence News Team

St. Joseph Health recently purchased more than a dozen appliedVR® virtual reality (VR) goggles to help reduce anxiety and relieve pain for pediatric and obstetrics/gynecology (OB/GYN) patients both at the hospital and in the doctor’s office. Clinical trials at Cedars-Sinai and CHLA have shown the VR goggles reduce self-reported pain by 24%; a CHLA clinical trial also showed anxiety was reduced by 31%.

The wireless virtual reality headsets are powered by a smart phone preloaded with a variety of 360 degree, virtual reality experiences that patients can choose from to distract, manage pain or ease anxiety (watch video of sample VR experiences).

At St. Joseph Health, Santa Rosa Memorial (SRMH), VR is providing a welcome distraction for pediatric patients. Whether they’re playing a video game or watching farm animals grazing, kids enter another world while care providers insert IVs or change dressings.

That was the case for six-year-old Angel Fernandez of Clear Lake, who was admitted to SRMH on July 8 for cellulitis in his left foot. His treatment plan included antibiotics and anti-inflammatories and required the placement of an IV. To help reduce his anxiety during the IV placement, his care team asked Angel is he’d like to try on virtual reality goggles so he could swim with dolphins while they inserted the IV. Not surprisingly, Angel was game.

“[The virtual reality goggles] helped Angel relax,” said his mother, Alejandra. “They’re great because they create a distraction. Angel wasn’t scared or worried and a part of the reason why is because he was so happy searching for the dolphins! It also helped that the caregivers explained what they were going to do step-by-step.”

In the family birth center down the hall, VR brings calming scenes and sounds to the delivery room, providing mothers in early and late stages of labor with a less invasive alternative to medication.

In the midst of the current opioid epidemic, many experts see VR as one way to reduce non-essential pharmacological exposure. According to Ricci Ros, Director of Women and Children’s Services at SRMH, it is estimated that more than 1,000 inpatients and outpatients at St. Joseph Health will use VR as an alternative to pharmacologicals to manage pain and anxiety within the year.

“At St. Joseph Health, we are committed to providing our mothers and children with a holistic and personalized experience that meets their unique needs and goals,” said Ros. “We are excited to offer VR to children and mothers who want a natural pain relief/anxiety management option.”

At St. Joseph Health Medical Group’s Santa Rosa-based OB/GYN office, doctors are offering VR to patients to relieve stress and anxiety during outpatient gynecological procedures, such as biopsies or colposcopies used to check for cervical cancer.

“It’s about giving our patients options,” said Gregory Sacher, M.D., OB/GYN with St. Joseph Health Medical Group. “For some women, having an IUD inserted, an endometrial biopsy, a routine pap smear, or other procedures can

cause a sense of unease and apprehension. The sights and sounds provided by the virtual reality goggles can give these patients an opportunity to be transported to a calming, more pleasant space.”

According to appliedVR, studies have been conducted at a variety of medical centers, including Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, Mayo Clinic, and George Washington University among others. In addition to decreased pain and anxiety without medication (and therefore reduced drug-related side effects), benefits have also included an enhanced treatment experience, a reduced perception of procedure/wait times, and shorter recovery times.

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