Picture this: Your anxious child is about to have surgery. You have the opportunity to be in the Operating Room. Or, you can be there virtually, present and visible to your child on a screen, talking together and seeing each other.
If you believe in evidence-based health care, pick option two.
That’s one finding from research conducted by the Collaborative Human Immersive and Interactive Lab (CHISIL). Founded by Drs. Fahad Alam and Clyde Matava in 2014, CHISIL is a collaborative focused on virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed realities in health care.
Dr. Alam is a medical education researcher and staff anesthesiologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Dr. Matava is Director of Innovation, Informatics and Technology, in the Department of Anesthesia and Pain Medicine, at The Hospital for Sick Children.
That study, presented at the May scientific meeting of the University of Toronto, demonstrated that when parents come into the OR, they get anxious and that anxiety is transferred to the child. The child feels something is wrong. But when parents are present through videoconference, there is no negative non-verbal communication. Parents are more positive and smile more.
Dr. Alam says CHISIL has created a bank of virtual reality experiences so patients can log on from home with a smartphone augmented, if desired, by an inexpensive Google Cardboard head set. Surgical patients, a few days before, or the day of, surgery, can be exposed to a virtual reality environment that lessens anxiety by showing patients what to expect.
“We see very encouraging results,” Dr. Matava says, adding that pre-operative anxiety has an impact on health outcomes. In fact, Sick Kids has released Childlife VR, an app that can be helpful to any child going to hospital by showing them, in a Virtual Reality environment, what to expect. Childlife VR is available for iOS.
VR extends to other anxiety-busting applications. Dr. Alam says appropriate situations include preparation for electric convulsive therapy, a lumbar puncture, or pain management to reduce opiod use. Dr. Matava adds to the list: end-of-life states – “give the patient a break so the bedridden feel they are somewhere else for a while” – and post-traumatic stress disorder.
That said, Dr. Alam points out “you can’t hammer VR into every situation and healthcare providers are rightly slow to adopt new procedures. Everything must be evidence-based and clear cut,” he says, adding that the researchers are currently working on a best practices document for the use of VR in pain management.