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Virtual Reality Headset Reduces Fear of Needles

Using virtual reality headsets can significantly reduce children’s fear and pain of needles.

Most parents should find this scene all too familiar: the tantrums, screaming and kicking as they try to distract their children with a toy or to get their toddler to sit still while the doctor gives them their routine immunization. This fear of needles is quite common among children for obvious reasons. But plenty of times, this fear and anxiety often force parents to delay trips to the doctor.

This needle phobia won’t be a problem for long, all thanks to virtual reality, and a tech-savvy pediatrician who knows the sentiments of parents.

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How Virtual Reality is Transforming Medical Care

Who would’ve thought that a virtual reality experience momentarily helps children forget about their fears and enables medical professionals to administer the necessary shot without any problems?

Dr. Chad Rudnick, founder of Boca VIPediatrics and affiliate professor at Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, is the first person to conduct a pilot study using a virtual reality headset to reduce the fear of needles within a pediatric setting. It was published in Pain Management.

An 8-year-old patient of Dr. Rudnick’s inspired him to take on this feat. This patient stepped into his office with a virtual reality headset in hand. The child strapped the goggles on as he gave the injection, and much to the doctor’s surprise, and the mother’s, the boy never cried or even winced.

That event got Dr. Rudnick thinking. He wondered whether it was a one-time thing or if it could work again. There are no prior studies on the effects of virtual reality distraction during pediatric immunizations. He tested his theory with the help of pre-med students and co-authors.


Virtual Reality Glasses in Pediatric Immunizations

Research shows that humans have a limited capacity for attention. That’s why when kids busy themselves with a different stimulus such as their VR game, the painful stimulus may feel less severe.

Dr. Rudnick’s objective was to test the feasibility, efficiency as well as the usefulness of virtual reality headsets  in decreasing fear and pain of immunizations. The pediatrician made use of a 3D VR eyewear and a smartphone. Respondents were allowed to choose between a roller coaster, a helicopter, and a hot-air balloon ride for their VR experience. When the ride ensued, Dr. Rudnick would poke a single shot.

Children aged 6 to 17 participated in the study. They had to answer a questionnaire before and after the test. They evaluated their fear and pain using Murty Children’s and the Wong-Baker scales, respectively. Their parents or guardians also had to complete their own questionnaires, which were meant to assess their own perception of fear and pain. They used the same scales during their evaluation.


Results of the Study

The research showed that the anticipated pain and fear were reduced by 94.1%. Also, 94.1% of the respondents claimed that they would want to use a  virtual reality headset again for succeeding immunizations. As for the parents and guardians of the children, they observed a lower perception of pain and fear in their children after using VR gear.

Based on the positive outcome of his study, Dr. Rudnick can only hope that many pediatric clinics will catch up and embrace such a practice. Having children vaccinated on time is critical to primary care pediatrics. If a $50 device can help medical practitioners and parents achieve that, it should be a worthy investment as it could significantly reduce mortality from vaccine-preventable diseases.

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Gergana Mileva
the authorGergana Mileva
Based in Prague, CZ, Geri is a freelance journalist and writer, focusing on technology, finance, and marketing. If you have a story suggestion for Geri, you may contact her here.