VR Continues to Improve Patient Experiences, But Location Counts

June 28, 2017
Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN

Virtual reality has the power to transport its users. Doctors and dentists have caught on to this technology and taken advantage of it to make their patients more comfortable, but according to a new study, not all VR destinations are created equal. Read on to find out which VR environments are most effective in reducing pain and anxiety during procedures.

Nature VR settings are most theraputic for patients, according to the study

A growing body of research is helping to confirm what some dentists already know: Using virtual reality (VR) in a patient care setting can dramatically improve the patient experience by lowering stress, anxiety and even pain levels.

A new study has found a link between the locale a patient visits in VR during dental procedures and increased satisfaction with the dental experience. The study was a combined effort among researchers at the Universities of Plymouth, Exeter and Birmingham, England.

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Study participants were randomly assigned to one of three study conditions: standard care with no VR, a virtual walk around a local beach and a virtual walk in an anonymous VR city. The results indicated that study participants who “walked” around the beach were less anxious, had less pain during their procedure and had more positive memories of their treatment up to a week after the procedure. However, these benefits were not present in participants who walked around the VR city.

“The use of virtual reality in health care settings is on the rise, but we need more rigorous evidence of whether it actually improves patient experiences,” Dr. Karin Tanja-Dijkstra, lead author of the research, says. “Our research demonstrates that under the right conditions, this technology can be used to help both patients and practitioners."

In reviewing the results of the study, the researchers stressed that the virtual location patients visit during treatment is especially important and consistent with other research suggesting natural environments are most therapeutic. Specifically, marine environments are best to help reduce stress and anxiety.

“That walking around the virtual city did not improve outcomes shows that merely distracting the patients isn't enough, the environment for a patient's visit needs to be welcoming and relaxing,” Dr. Sabine Pahl, study coordinator at the University of Plymouth, says.

As a follow up to this study, the research team is now planning to examine whether their virtual beach can help patients in other medical settings. They are also planning to explore whether certain additions to the virtual environment could improve the patient experience even further.

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