A vein puncture—the piercing of a vein for a medical procedure such as drawing blood or inserting an intravenous tube—can make a young patient feel anxious. Many hospitals have a dedicated child life services team to assist children in dealing with these procedures, while others rely on more traditional distractions like toys or books.
Virtual reality (VR) games may offer an engaging and practical addition to the list of distraction therapy options, according to a new study. If they are appropriate and carefully chosen for pediatric clinical situations, VR games may offer an engaging and practical addition to the list of distraction therapy options.
Researchers divided 55 patients, ranging in age from 7 to 22, who were undergoing venipuncture procedures, into three groups at random from June 2019 to March 2020. The first group of 15 patients took part in virtual reality games while being supervised by a child life specialist. The second group, which included 20 patients, did not use virtual reality but received support from a child life specialist. In the third group, the remaining 20 patients did not have access to a child life specialist or virtual reality games.
Overall, researchers discovered that patients who played virtual reality games during their vein puncture procedure experienced less pain and anxiety, and that the best combination of VR and child life specialist support was most effective. The researchers discovered, however, that children who used virtual reality during venipunctures had significantly longer procedure times (by 4-6 minutes on average) than those who only had child life specialist support or no distraction therapy at all.
The nurse or technician having repeatedly pause a game to correct a technical problem, provide guidance on game navigation or controlled operation, or change a game, according to the researchers, was the most likely cause.
Director of pediatric emergency medicine digital health innovation at the Johns Hopkins University Children's Center and assistant professor of pediatrics at the university's School of Medicine, says, "We don't think the extra time is a huge detriment because it's hard to put a value on reducing a child's trauma during a venipuncture procedure." “Making a child more comfortable is well worth it, even if VR adds five minutes.”
The most surprising finding was how many adolescents needed help to navigate virtual reality games, and that researchers had to do a lot of "trial-and-error" to figure out which games were best for distraction therapy.
“We discovered that games with little head and arm movement, played without high-anxiety scenarios—such as military battles or zombie attacks—and that did not require a controller or extensive menu options worked best because they added the least amount of time to a venipuncture procedure,”.
“Hospitals considering the use of virtual reality as a distraction therapy—particularly those on a budget—might want to start with such ‘clinically friendly games' before investing.”
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