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ABC News: Virtual Reality May Mean Real Pain Relief for Hospitalized Patients

ABC News recently interviewed Brennan Spiegel, MD, MSHS, director of Cedars-Sinai's Health Service Research, about his new study showing the value of virtual reality (VR) for pain management. The study, published in the journal PLOS|ONE, the Public Library of Science, builds on previous work led by Spiegel, an internationally recognized leader in using VR for pain relief. 

As ABC News reported, Spiegel and his research team compared the effectiveness of VR in managing pain by separating 140 pain patients into two groups: one group had VR experiences, the other watched health and wellness videos on TV.

The VR headset gave patients a choice of 21 VR scenarios; research staff suggested they use them three times daily for 10 minutes at a time and whenever they had extra pain. The patients recorded their pain levels on a scale of zero to 10; zero meant “no pain” and 10 was the “worst imaginable pain." 

The VR group said their pain scores went down by approximately two points; the TV group had about half a point decrease in pain. When only looking at those with severe pain, the VR group's pain scores dropped by about three points while the TV group’s pain scores decreased by nearly one point.

While the notion that VR might reduce pain may surprise some, Spiegel told ABC News, “We are modifying the way people are experiencing their illnesses. Virtual Reality can modify how the illness is perceived.”

In Spiegel's previous study of short-term VR therapy, completed in 2017, the results published in JMIR Mental Health showed patients using VR reported a 24% drop in pain scores.

The current study underscores that VR can be an effective tool to add to traditional pain-management protocols, Spiegel said.

“This is not voodoo science,” Spiegel told ABC News. “We can do better at findings ways to engage our patients in managing pain and distress without always reaching for a pill.”

Watch the complete story here.

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai blog: How Virtual Reality Can Help with Childbirth