Update from Ivan Phelan’s VR for Pain Distraction Project

VR research for burns patients

Ivan Phelan and his team have just completed the ‘Confidence in Concept’ phase of their virtual reality (VR) for pain distraction project.  This research used the application of VR gaming to medical procedures for burns patients with a focus on in-patients’ need for diversion from pain when undergoing painful dressing changes.

Following a consultative workshop with burns survivors and clinicians, the team developed four VR scenarios. 15 student volunteers tested these scenarios using a ‘cold pressor test’ (a controlled, induced pain situation where participants are required to immerse their hand in very cold water for as long as they can).  The volunteer tests identified the two active scenarios as significantly extending participants’ pain threshold and tolerance times compared to passive and baseline conditions.

VR Research Sheep for Burns Patients

VR Research: ‘Sheep’ for Burns Patients

The team tested these active scenarios under clinical conditions (dressing changes) with five burns inpatients and compared results against a passive scenario and a ‘control’ condition. The researchers monitored pain and anxiety ratings and interviewed conducted patients and specialist nurses about their experience.

The qualitative results pointed to extremely positive reactions to the application of VR games during dressing changes. Active scenarios in particular were perceived to help manage pain and distract the user whilst reducing anxiety and increasing a sense of control. The application of VR was perceived to improve the experience of dressing changes for all.

Results from both phases were very encouraging and suggest that user-informed active VR is acceptable and enjoyable as a means of helping to control pain. It has also demontrate that VR games as pain distraction are both feasible and desirable within the clinical environment.

Further testing with larger samples is now required and we will be seeking further funding for a follow-on study.  For further information, please get in touch with C3RI.