New evidence suggests virtual reality could help kids stress less about going to the doctor’s office. A pilot study found that VR reduces stress in kids who are scheduled to have injections – one of the scariest reasons to visit the doctor.

Use of virtual reality in the medical industry is nothing new. Researchers have been looking for ways to incorporate VR technology for some time, and recently, researchers at the Sansum Clinic in Santa Barbara and Lompoc ran a pilot scheme to test how the use of VR head-mounted displays might help kids reduce their fear of injections. This is great news for kids, and their parents, especially when a round of vaccinations is coming up and everyone is feeling some anxiety over the needles.

VR Technology Reduces Anxiety for Kids Getting Vaccinations

The study took place over the course of three months beginning in September 2016. Children who used VR headsets during their round of vaccinations were compared to a group of kids who received their vaccines without the headset. The VR group was shown images of the ocean to help them calm down and feel relaxed.

Of the 244 children in the study, 112 were able to view the images while getting their seasonal flu shots. The results showed that 48 percent of the children reported less pain than those who received their shot without the distraction of VR images. Parents were also asked to describe the experience and many noted their children experienced 48 percent less pain and 52 percent less fear when viewing the images.

Researchers reported even more impressive results. According to their data, 75 percent of the children experienced less pain and 71 percent showed less fear of the needle. According to Dr. Mark Silverberg, Sansum Clinic pediatric ophthalmologist, “We were fairly impressed with the numbers. They definitely show that the VR goggles facilitated the vaccination process for kids, parents and staff.”

The team acknowledged this was just a small study, so not a true indication of what might happen on a larger scale. However, they believe the results showed promise and that immersive technology could be the key to distracting children during stressful medical situations.

Dr. Silverberg is concerned there are parents who avoid vaccinations because they know how stressful it will be on their kids and everyone involved. “It’s a shame to think of kids going un-vaccinated simply because of the stress. We were looking for a simple, inexpensive remedy.”

VR Could Reduce Medical Anxiety in Other Ways

There is hope the VR distraction techniques could have larger implications. In addition to vaccinations it could be used in any circumstance that a child needs to get a needle, such as a blood draw. It could also be useful for other medical procedures – any time a child is feeling fearful or anxious about a doctor visit.

Additionally, there is speculation the technology could be expanded to adolescent and adult populations. It’s an effective way to distract people from their reality, which is great when that reality is temporarily inducing anxiety or stress.

The idea for the study arose when Dr. Silverberg noticed young patients often experienced stress when faced with the prospect of receiving painful shots. His 15 year-old daughter, Zoe, suggested the use of virtual reality to distract kids in these situation. Dr. Silverberg and his team then took Zoe’s idea to Dr. John LaPuma, a board certified internist and proponent of exercising in nature for stress reduction to create the project.

Though much of the focus on VR right now seems to be on entertainment, there are increasing calls for the technology to be used in the healthcare field. In addition to reducing stress, studies have also been done related to weight loss and mental health.