A Texas hospital is trying out virtual reality as a pain reliever for patients.
The Shriners Hospital for Children in Galveston, Texas has been using virtual reality (VR) headsets with programs like “Snow World”—an ice landscape where participants can throw snow at snowmen and igloos—as a way to distract from the pain of something like intense burns.
The idea behind this is that pain management can come from manipulating the way the brain works: the more you focus on the pain, the worse it is. So if the brain is given an overload of sensor inputs from being immersed in something like a virtual world, the brain’s capacity to process pain goes down.
The use of VR in this regards is an experimental approach, but proponents say it can be an effect treatment for a variety of health issues, from depression to intense pain. With companies like Sony Corp. and Facebook working on VR sets, the price of the hardware has fallen, making the equipment more affordable for hospitals looking for ways to alleviate pain among patients.
So far, the research at Shriners has shown that patients reported less discomfort. In fact, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of their brains showed they actually experienced less pain. Whether VR becomes a standard in the hospital setting is unknown; however, the price of a headset and software is small compared to the expense of keeping a patient in the hospital for an extra day.
Though there’s a lot more research that has been done before VR is accepted as a pain relief method, that hasn’t stopped companies from working on it. Applied VR is one such company, supplying hospitals with headsets and therapeutic software, while another startup, DeepStream VR, is developing systems that will help patients with burns and other injuries using software called “Cool!” that features the adventures of an otter.