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Virtual reality helps ease fears and educate pediatric patients and families

Virtual reality is being used at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford to help prepare and calm patients, to educate and to deliver anesthesia.

What if you had to go in for a surgery tomorrow? You'd probably be apprehensive, if not fearful. But for a child or teen, the prospect of a major medical procedure can be terrifying.

Alleviating that terror is one of the primary reasons pediatric specialists at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford are increasingly turning to virtual reality to help prepare and calm patients, to educate, and to deliver anesthesia, among other uses.

A Stanford Medicine magazine article recently highlighted a handful of these efforts, including a surgery simulation. The piece explains:

Once they don the virtual reality goggles and start the program, patients see the entrance to Packard; if they turn their heads, they can see what’s behind them. They move through the pre-and post-operative stages, viewing each room, complete with equipment and the care team. They also see the actors and physicians, standing off to the side, who explain what will happen at each stage. At two points in the experience, the real-life video of the hospital switches to a tranquil, animated scene.

In one, the imagery becomes a nighttime valley, surrounded by mountains, under a sky filled with stars. With subtle shifts of their heads, patients can move dots of light around the scene; if they place the dot on the ground, it grows into a new tree. They can spend as much time as they’d like in the scene, building a forest, changing the color of the sky and meditating on the serene landscape.

Another program, called Sevo the Dragon, allows anesthesiologists to sedate preschoolers, who are encouraged to cook pizza using their dragon-breath, which forces them to breath deeply, inhaling the anesthesia.

Pediatric anesthesiologist Sam Rodriguez, MD, emphasizes that Packard care teams still prioritize interacting directly with the patients, rather than simply handing them goggles and getting to work. "We ask them what they're seeing so we can gauge how they're doing. The interpersonal skills of the child life specialist, or the physician or the nurse are still very important."

Previously: Pediatric cardiologists bring virtual reality to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, Fear factor: using virtual reality to overcome phobias and Seeing is believe (unfortunately): A project designed to study visually induced fear
Image by Greg Clarke

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