Study finds surgery patients wearing VR headsets needed less anesthetic

More evidence is mounting that virtual reality might relieve pain during surgery. MIT News reports that Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center researchers in Boston have published a study indicating that patients wearing VR headsets required less anesthetic during hand surgery. While the average conventional patient needed 750.6 milligrams per hour of the sedative propofol, people looking at relaxing VR content (such as meditation, nature scenes and videos) only required 125.3 milligrams. They also recovered earlier, leaving the post-anesthesia unit after 63 minutes on average versus 75 minutes.

The scientists claim VR distracted the patients from pain that would otherwise command their full attention. However, the researchers also admitted that the headset wearers may have gone into the operating room expecting VR to help, potentially skewing the results.

Beth Israel Deaconess’ team is planning trials that could rule out this placebo effect, though. One follow-up trial will also gauge the effect of VR on patients receiving hip and knee surgery. Past experiments, such as at St. Jospeph’s Hospital in France, have indicated that the technology can help assuage patients.

The allure for healthcare providers is clear. Patients might suffer less and return home sooner. Hospitals, meanwhile, could make the most of their anesthetic supplies, free recovery beds and reduce wait times. What a provider spends on VR headsets could pay for itself if it allows for more patients and higher-quality treatment.

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