Immersing Yourself in VR Could Ease Anxiety During Surgery: Study - medtigo



Immersing Yourself in VR Could Ease Anxiety During Surgery: Study

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Rather than being frightened and sedated during a surgical procedure, you can instead immerse yourself in VR.  

Everyone can find surgery to be a terrifying experience. Even the notion of undergoing one can induce great anxiety in people. According to new research from Michigan State University, the use of VR, or virtual reality, during awake surgery could reduce patient anxiety and promote calm.  

According to a study published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, patients who were immersed in virtual reality (VR) content during surgery experienced greater enjoyment than those who were not.  

James Clarkson, the principal author of the study and an assistant professor of surgery at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, explains, “For patients engrossed in the VR experience, we observed a definite improvement in happiness.” And for patients with an anxiety problem, we observed a reduction in anxiety and a rise in happiness.  

The researchers compared patients who underwent carpal tunnel release surgery with monitored or general anesthesia versus those who underwent surgery wide awake with only local anaesthetic and no tourniquet in an office setting with the option of using VR submersion experience. Between August 2017 and March 2021, they observed 404 individuals who underwent surgery at three separate hospitals in Michigan.  

The team discovered that patients who underwent surgery traditionally in a surgical room were twice as likely to have a neutral or negative experience, 23% versus 11%, compared to those who underwent surgery wide awake and immersed in VR. Individuals who underwent standard surgery also reported significantly lower levels of happiness (44% versus 20%) and higher levels of anxiety (42% against 27%).  

For patients who underwent awake surgery in an office setting, those who chose to use VR reported more happiness than those who did not (85% versus 73%). Individuals with anxiety disorders who opted for the VR experience reported less anxiety and more happiness.  

Clarkson first considered using VR in the operating room in 2016 when he observed his children playing with the technology at home. Clarkson tells MSU, “I immediately felt that this is exactly what my patients need.” “I could tell them, ‘I will not evict you, but I can place you elsewhere,'”  

After having the idea to utilize the VR system, he took action and eventually founded Wide Awake VR, a ‘better and safer alternative for individuals to undergo medical operations without sedatives.’  

“VR changed the patient’s experience,” continues Clarkson. “They no longer had to starve from midnight onwards, and they were able to drive the same day after undergoing surgery and returning home, exactly as one would with a dentist.”  


Clarkson will submit the findings of the study to the International Virtual Reality Health Care Association and will also give a presentation titled “Digital Sedation: A Novel Alternative to Anesthesia” at the SXSW Conference & Festivals on March 10. 


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