World-first VR trial for children undergoing needle procedures

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A world-first trial led by Monash Children’s Hospital in collaboration with the Royal Children’s Hospital has revealed that virtual reality (VR) technology could reduce the pain, anxiety and distress of children undergoing needle procedures.

The trial included 252 children aged 4-11 years who underwent intravenous cannulation or venepuncture procedures while wearing VR headsets with underwater scenes perfectly timed with the elements of the procedure.

“The virtual reality sequence reframes the scary hospital environment with a reassuring underwater adventure,” paediatric research fellow at Monash Children’s Hospital and lead author Dr Evelyn Chan said.

“While the needle procedure takes place, the child experiences waves washing and fish nibbling on their arms, reframing the entire experience.”

Parents like Rachelle Stewart, whose 12-year-old son Kai used the VR headset for the first time during a blood test last week, are excited to see the where the trial’s findings will take pain management for children.

Kai, who has cystic fibrosis and requires up to 12 vials of blood to be taken twice a year, typically dreads pathology appointments and is highly distressed around needles.

“Seeing Kai totally at ease when having the procedure that would usually result in kicking and screaming was definitely a welcome change.”

The trial has been published in The Journal of Paediatrics, and researchers are now looking to expand the use of VR in other departments and hospitals.

“Virtual reality has the potential to transform a range of paediatric procedures. We’re running several trials to see if this can improve other procedures as varied as immunisation, medical imaging and anaesthetics,” Dr Chan said.

Congratulations to Dr Evelyn Chan, Dr Paul Leong, Dr Erin Mills, Dr Simon Cohen, Emma Ramage and the incredible team at Monash Children’s Hospital for the success of the trial.

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