Providers turn to virtual reality for drug-free pain management

Jeff Rowe
Providers turn to virtual reality for drug-free pain management

“Dreaming with your eyes open” may sound like the title to a romantic comedy, but it’s actually the way one healthcare researcher describes the experience of virtual reality.

According to to an article in mHealthIntelligence, Brennan Spiegel, who is launching the largest VR-based clinical study to date at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, says he has patients asking daily for ways to alleviate pain without medication, and he thinks virtual reality has the potential to do it. 

Spiegel, director of health services research for Cedars-Sinai and a professor of medicine and public health at UCLA, is focusing his research on applying the technology for in-patient pain management, narcotic use, hospital length of stay and patient satisfaction, and he considers Cedars-Sinai’s Virtual Reality Consult Service a potential pharmacy for physicians, “where they can choose from a variety of VR sessions and prescribe to patients, much like someone might choose a movie from Netflix.”

Similarly, Stanford Health Care, Harborview Burn Center in Seattle, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Shriners Hospital for Children in Galveston, Texas, are also experimenting with virtual reality for pain management.

Some projects have focused on using VR to alleviate anxiety in children and combat substance abuse issues. In some cases, physicians have used VR to diagnose an unrelated medical issue.

As the price point for virtual reality falls, an increasing number of vendors are showing interest in new ways to apply the technology.

Other potential uses for virtual reality, experts says, include stress management, behavioral health and mobility training for stroke and spinal cord injury patients.

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