Sleep Through Your Next Surgery in Virtual Reality

Surgery can cause anxiety and sedation has been the answer–but what if VR can help?

While surgery can range from Open-Heart to Carpal Tunnel Release, a few things are constant: discomfort and anxiety. The severity of each depends on the type of surgery, potential risks, and the patient involved. Depending on the surgery, different levels of anesthetics are used. For example, if a person is having open-heart surgery, they will be placed under general anesthesia. However, with something like carpal tunnel release, the patient will be sedated enough to be calm and comfortable, but conscious enough to follow directions as needed.
Sleep Through Your Next Surgery in Virtual Reality
“Could there be a way to reduce anxiety while also using less sedative? With Virtual Reality, this may be possible!”
In one novel study, a randomized control group was monitored during hand surgery to determine if sedation reduction, while maintaining patient satisfaction, was possible. Turns out, it was possible! To achieve this result, virtual reality immersion was implemented. Randomly, adult patients getting hand surgery were divided between those only receiving anesthetics, and those receiving anesthetics in addition to virtual reality immersion.
The significance in the reduction of sedation is a big deal. It’s also significant that, while decreasing sedatives, there was no change in patient satisfaction. Sedatives, like Propofol, help to keep the patient calm; however, too much sedation can have harmful effects. Strokes, heart attacks, and respiratory failure are just a few of those complications. So, the idea that virtual reality can lessen the chance of these serious complications is huge.

The Possibilities of VR

During the course of this study, those that used VR, in addition to sedatives, got to choose their immersive experience. Of course, all of these experiences were designed to be calming. There were options like a 360-degree view of a meadow or a forest, meditations, or even peaceful videos.

What is exciting about this, is the chance for further exploration of the effects VR has on surgical patient satisfaction. Even more, the study found that those who experienced their surgery VR, left 22 minutes earlier than the control group. Virtual reality offers the opportunity for shorter hospital stays, decreased risk, and financial savings.

Virtual reality also offers the opportunity for the medical team to communicate with the patient and vice versa. Since the patient is awake during the procedure, local anesthetics can be monitored effectively based on the patient’s pain levels. This, in turn, alleviates the need for more sedatives than necessary.

In conclusion, considering the benefits of sedation and anxiety reduction may be important in enhancing surgical procedures. There are many potential, often harmful, side effects that occur when a patient is given anesthetics. There is anxiety around this, but also, just around the thought of having surgery and all the risks involved. If we can lessen the anxiety, manage the pain just as well, and offer an experience where the patient leaves satisfied, I think we’ve done a good job.

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