When I was a kid, I would hide under the desk in the doctor’s office and kick anyone who came near me with a needle. Kids these days don’t need a desk to duck under, because they can hide in a virtual world instead.
A new pilot study conducted by Chad Rudnick, a pediatrician and affiliate professor at Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, looks at the use of virtual reality in managing needle phobia, one of the most common fears among children.
The idea for the study came from an 8-year-old patient who arrived at the doctor’s office one day prepared for the worst (vaccines) and armed with his weapon of choice, a VR headset. When Rudnick jabbed him, the kid didn’t even flinch, which surprised everyone in the room. Rudnick ran with the idea, setting up a study using a 3D virtual reality headset and smartphone app that gave the kids (ages 6 to 17) the choice of going on a VR roller coaster ride, helicopter trip or a hot-air balloon ride. Once the kids were immersed in their VR worlds, Rudnick gave them their shot. The whole thing took about 30 seconds.
Rudnick then asked participants and their parents to both complete a pre- and post-questionnaire evaluating fear and pain. The results of the study, which were published in the journal Pain Management, showed that pain and fear were reduced in 94.1% in the kids by using VR and 94.1% of them plan to use virtual reality headsets the next time they need to get an immunization. Maybe blood donations would go up if the Red Cross offered VR during their blood drives, too.
Why does this work? Basically, humans are easily distracted and if we see something cool and shiny, we won’t notice the pain as much.