Compared with the non-VR group, the VR group required significantly lower levels of the sedative propofol — in this case used to numb pain in the hand.They received 125.3 mg per hour, compared to an average of 750.6 mg per hour during the study period, described in PLoS OneThe VR group also left the post-anesthesia recovery unit faster, taking an average of 63 minutes compared to 75 minutes for the non-VR group.
The researchers believe that people in the VR group needed lower levels of anesthesia because they were more distracted than those without virtual visual stimulation. However, the team admits that the VR team may have already started surgery and they already believe VR will work. This possibility needs to be explored in future trials.
Reducing the number of anaesthetics a patient receives can help shorten hospital stays and reduce the risk of complications, as well as save on the cost of the drugs themselves.
Adeel Faruki, an assistant professor of anesthesiology at the University of Colorado who led the study, said the team now plans to conduct similar follow-up trials in patients undergoing hip and knee surgery to continue exploring whether VR can help manage anxiety during surgery.
There is growing evidence that VR can be a useful surgical aid, said Brenda Widhold, co-founder of the Center for Virtual Reality Medicine, which was not involved in the study. However, medical professionals need to monitor patients for cybersickness, a type of motion sickness that VR induces in some people.
“We have a lot of use cases for VR and surgery, like before and after cesarean sections and heart surgery,” she said.
According to Wiederhold, VR may be helpful not only during medical procedures but also afterward, as it can reduce the risk of chronic pain. “It’s very exciting,” she said.