Cedars-Sinai researchers reveal hospitalized patients on-demand use of virtual reality (VR) resulted in statistically significant improvements in pain
A new study led by Cedars-Sinai’s Health Service Research, published in PLOS|ONE, the Public Library of Science, demonstrates the effectiveness of using therapeutic virtual reality (VR) to combat pain for hospitalized patients. The study builds on previous work led by Brennan Spiegel, MD, MSHS, director of Cedars-Sinai’s Health Service Research, who brought VR to the medical center.
The Emergence of Therapeutic Virtual Reality (VR)
Therapeutic virtual reality (VR) is emerging as an effective, non-pharmacological treatment modality for pain. VR sessions have been used to help treat anxiety disorders, support physical rehabilitation and distract patients during wound care. Previous studies testing the intervention in hospitalized patients have been limited by short intervention times and lack of randomization.
On-Demand VR Study Protocol
Researchers conducted a randomized comparative-effectiveness trial of 120 adults that were admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for a variety of ailments including orthopedic problems, gastrointestinal diseases, and cancer between November 2016 and July 2017. All of the patients had an average pain score of at least 3 out of 10 during the 24 hours prior to participating in the study.
61 people randomized to the intervention group were provided with a Samsung Gear Oculus headset equipped with 21 relaxing and meditative VR experiences to choose from. Patients were advised to use the headsets three times a day for 10 minutes per session—and as needed for breakthrough pain—over three days. 59 people in the control group were instead instructed to tune their television set to a health and wellness channel that included guided relaxations and poetry readings.
The study’s findings reveal that on-demand use of VR resulted in statistically significant improvements in pain compared to the TV group, with patients in the VR group averaging 1.7 points lower on the pain scale. When researchers analyzed findings from the subgroup of patients with the most severe baseline pain of seven or above, VR patients averaged three points lower than the TV group. The current study underscores that VR can be an effective tool to add to traditional pain-management protocols.
Why It Matters
“This is our largest and most ambitious VR study to date,” Spiegel said. “Our results support previous research that VR can meaningfully reduce pain using a nonaddictive, drug-free treatment for people experience a range of different pain conditions.” “Virtual reality is a mind-body treatment that is based in real science,” Spiegel added. “It does more than just distract the mind from pain, but also helps to block pain signals from reaching the brain, offering a drug-free supplement to traditional pain management. “I believe that one day soon VR will be part of every doctor’s tool kit for pain management.”
In Spiegel’s previous study of short-term VR therapy, completed in 2017, the results published in JMIR Mental Health showed patients using VR reported a 24% drop in pain scores.
Citation: Spiegel B, Fuller G, Lopez M, Dupuy T, Noah B, Howard A, et al. (2019) Virtual reality for management of pain in hospitalized patients: A randomized comparative effectiveness trial. PLoS ONE 14(8): e0219115. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0219115
Funding: This study was funded, in part, through an institutional grant to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center from applied VR ($47,333 direct cost). The Cedars-Sinai Center for Outcomes Research and Education (CS-CORE) is supported by The Marc and Sheri Rapaport Fund for Digital Health Sciences & Precision Health. Brennan Spiegel is supported by a NIH/National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS) UCLA CTSI Grant Number UL1TR001881. The authors have no equity or ownership with appliedVR or other VR hardware or software companies. All aspects of the study design, performance, analysis, data interpretation and writing were independently conducted by the investigators.