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news item News Friday, November 2, 2018 Friday, November 2, 2018 12:49 PM - Friday, November 2, 2018 12:49 PM

Virtual reality: Easing pain and providing comfort for patients

Shriners Hospitals for Children — Spokane patient Jose “Ricky” Pinto Duque sat nervously in a patient care room while waiting for an intravenous drip feed (IV). “I don’t like needles at all, they make me nervous,” said Ricky. The nurse picked up the phone and called Recreation Therapy Manager Carol Kaczka. Within minutes, Kaczka walked in with a large grey briefcase and pulled out a pair of large black goggles and noise-cancelling headphones. The next thing Ricky knew, he was floating around in the ocean with whales and tropical fish.

Ricky was using a KindVR headset, a new virtual reality non-pharmaceutical pain management tool used at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Spokane. “I liked it a lot. I barely noticed the needle going in. I really liked seeing the whales,” said Ricky.

Virtual reality (VR), a computer-generated simulation, allows users to interact with an imaginary environment in a fully immersive experience. This therapeutic process can help reduce pain, anxiety or stress caused by medical procedures and conditions.

Bryan Tompkins, M.D., of Shriners Hospitals for Children — Spokane, is working closely with the medical VR organization, KindVR, to carefully select gentle and safe VR programs that have the potential to transform pain management. “Having surgery, resetting a broken bone or starting an IV can be scary and painful for children. Virtual reality has been found to help children in these situations, using distraction to reduce pain and alleviate their fears. During these stressful situations, the patients, through the use of VR, enter a calm, imaginary world with fish, dolphins and treasure,” said Dr. Tompkins.

Kaczka describes procedures involving needles as the most stressful portion of the hospital experience. “When a child's attention is redirected to an attractive element, the perception of pain is hindered. Virtual reality can offer even more distraction, as it fully immerses the patient in another world and involves several senses. Interacting with immersive VR can provide an effective distraction, leading to a slower response to incoming pain signals,” Kaczka explained. Ultimately, the hope is that non-pharmaceutical pain management alternatives reduce reliance on painkillers.