The VR group required significantly lower levels of the sedative propofol — used in this case to numb the hand — than the non-VR group. They received 125.3 milligrams per hour, compared with an average of 750.6 milligrams per hour over the course of the study, described in PLoS ONE. The VR group also left the unit recovering faster from anesthesia, spending an average of 63 minutes compared with 75 minutes for the non-VR group.
The researchers believe that people in the VR group needed lower amounts of anesthetic because they were more easily distracted than those without virtual visual stimuli. However, the team admits, it’s possible that the VR team may have gone for the surgery, believing that VR would work. This possibility will need to be explored in future trials.
Reducing the amount of anesthetic a patient receives can help shorten hospital stays and reduce the risk of complications, and can save money on medication.
Adeel Faruki, assistant professor of anesthesiology at the University of Colorado who led the study, said the team now plans to conduct a similar follow-up trial in patients undergoing hip and knee surgery to continue. continue to explore whether VR can help manage anxiety during surgery.
Brenda Wiederhold, co-founder of the Virtual Reality Medical Center, who was not involved in the study, said there is growing evidence that VR could be a useful surgical aid. However, medical professionals will need to monitor patients for motion sickness, a form of motion sickness that VR causes in some people.
“We have a lot of use cases for VR and surgery, such as cesarean section, before and after heart surgery,” she said.
According to Wiederhold, VR could be useful not only in medical procedures but also in the future by reducing the risk of chronic pain. “That was quite interesting,” she said.