Virtual reality used to reduce anxiety in young hospital patients

A children’s hospital in London has begun using virtual reality headsets to reduce anxiety in young patients.

Evelina London has purchased two Rescape VR headsets designed to distract the wearer while undergoing procedures that can make them anxious and cause stress. Kids using the headsets can experience different 360-degree environments, where they can swim underwater with tropical fish, visit outer space, or even walk with dinosaurs. They can also play a range of interactive games.

The VR headsets were purchased with a portion of the money raised from Tony Hudgell† Tony, then six years old, has raised over £1.5million for Evelina London Children’s Charity by walking more than 10 kilometers on his prosthetic legs in June 2020.

Research by the expert orthopedic team has already shown that children using the VR headsets experience less anxiety, which in turn helps to improve their hospital experience.

Mr Michail Kokkinakis, the Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon Consulting at Evelina London, said:

“The feedback from our patients who have used the headsets has been incredible.

“In 2020, we borrowed some headsets and did a feasibility study where kids used the VR headsets as a distraction method. The children came to the hospital for a blood test or a plaster cast was applied or removed because of a broken bone. The results of the survey showed that 66% experienced less anxiety and that every child would like to use the headsets again.

“Some kids who normally experience anxiety while getting a blood test said they didn’t even notice the needle going in while using the headset.”

Since the headsets were purchased last year, more research has been done on the effectiveness of reducing anxiety in children in a variety of settings.

Mr Kokkinakis said:

“We used the headsets on patients before they had surgery in Evelina London and while we waited for the consultant in the pediatric fracture clinic. The study has shown a statistically significant reduction in hospital anxiety and pain in the children using the headsets. It has also been shown that parents feel more relaxed knowing that their children are more comfortable and less anxious.”

Evelina London’s play specialists now use the headsets every day on patients in the orthopedic ward, with plans to use them in other parts of the hospital.

Mr Kokkinakis said:

“The potential of these headsets is enormous. In addition to being a distraction method, we hope to be able to use them in the future to show patients undergoing surgery what to expect. They will be able to wear the headsets and watch a 360-degree video of all the things they are likely to experience before their surgery, which will help them be more prepared and less anxious about their procedure.

Virtual reality used to reduce anxiety in young hospital patients
Ellie Jackson with a VR headset.

Ellie Jackson (11) used a VR headset during an appointment before undergoing hip surgery. Her mother Helen, from Orpington in South East London, said:

“Ellie hates needles and is terrified of a blood test. She can get very anxious and upset and it can take a long time to calm her down.”

Before getting a blood test, Ellie was asked if she wanted to try the VR headset. Helen said:

“As soon as she put it on, she was completely distracted. The nurse had to put a cannula in her hand and she didn’t even notice it went in. The difference it made was astonishing.

“It made the whole experience so much easier. Not only did it help calm Ellie down, but it also meant I was less worried about her.”

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