A new study has found that immersive virtual reality (IVR) may significantly reduce pain and anxiety in paediatric patients undergoing venipuncture. Venipuncture is one of the most commonly performed needle-related procedures in hospitalised paediatric patients and often causes high levels of pain and anxiety, particularly in children aged 4–12 years.
Previous studies have used various types of distractors to distract pediatric patients during procedures, such as watching cartoons, playing with toys, or soothing adults. However, these distractors have failed to completely block children’s attention away from the needle, which is the most anxiety-provoking scene during such procedures.
Research has shown that combining distraction with procedural information results in better outcomes. However, providing age-appropriate distraction and procedural information at the same time can be challenging. Additionally, previous distractors have not completely diverted a patient’s attention away from the needle, which is the most anxiety-provoking part of the procedure.
The study, which was conducted at a public hospital in Hong Kong, recruited 149 pediatric patients aged 4 to 12 years undergoing venipuncture between January 2019 and January 2020. The participants were randomly allocated to an intervention group, which received an age-appropriate IVR intervention offering distraction and procedural information, or a control group, which received standard care only. The findings were published in the journal JAMA Network Open.
The study found that the IVR intervention significantly reduced pain and anxiety in pediatric patients compared to the control group. The length of the venipuncture procedure was also significantly shorter in the IVR group, and healthcare professional satisfaction was significantly higher.
Distraction intervention is a commonly used non-drug method in clinical settings to alleviate procedural pain and anxiety in pediatric patients who are undergoing needle-related procedures. This approach is simpler to implement than other non-drug methods, such as hypnosis and cognitive behavioural therapy, and does not require special training. In previous studies, various types of distractors have been used, such as watching cartoons, playing with toys, or being soothed by adults, to distract pediatric patients during procedures. Using age-appropriate distractors appears to improve the effectiveness of pain management.
The results of the study suggest that both distraction and procedural information can be offered to children during an IVR intervention, which is becoming more affordable and accessible. It could be used to improve children’s experiences of needle-related or pain- and anxiety-inducing medical procedures. The study sheds light on the global trends of research on IVR and its clinical development as an intervention for other painful and stressful medical procedures.
The findings of this randomised clinical trial have significant implications for the management of procedural pain and anxiety in pediatric patients undergoing venipuncture. The use of age-appropriate IVR interventions has the potential to significantly improve the experience of pediatric patients during needle-related procedures, which can have short- and long-term consequences for patients and healthcare professionals.
Clinical guidelines emphasise the importance of managing procedural pain and anxiety in pediatric patients, and the use of IVR interventions could play a crucial role in achieving this goal.