Aug 02, 2016 I Brett Tingley

Doctors Prescribe Virtual Reality Games For Pain Relief

This election season, politicians have been discussing a newcomer to the political issue landscape: the American opioid addiction epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seventy-eight Americans die every day from opioid overdoses, most of them from prescription painkillers. What’s the answer to this epidemic? Why, video games, of course!

According to MIT Technology Review, several new startups are testing virtual reality (VR) games and experiences as a new method of treating pain and anxiety. Some surgeons have even begun using the VR tools to distract patients during procedures such as taking blood or to ease post-surgery discomfort.

One such startup, AppliedVR, is hailing its technology as a paradigm shift in pain treatment and patient-oriented therapies. Another therapeutic VR firm, Psious, has designed VR experiences that it claims can aid the treatment of phobias and other situational anxiety disorders.

Virtual reality experiences are being tested to treat anxiety disorders and even post-traumatic stress disorder.

Matthew Stoudt, Co-Founder and CEO of AppliedVR, stated in a recent press release that his company’s VR experiences could provide several positive patient outcomes without the need for drugs:

VR is entering an 'age of utilization' in healthcare, with hospitals and surgery centers seeking new ways to increase patient satisfaction, better manage pain, and reduce hospital stays. This does not require changing the face of healthcare, it merely requires AppliedVR's SaaS model for validated therapeutic VR content.

Hospital trials have already demonstrated that virtual reality experiences can reduce pain and anxiety during or after procedures.

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is conducting a pilot study of the virtual reality treatments, testing AppliedVR systems in its Orthopaedic Center, Spine Center, and Department of Surgery. Researchers have so far observed that patients who spent just 20 minutes in a virtual-reality environment experienced a 24 percent reduction in pain on average. Dr. Brennan Spiegel, director of Health Services Research in Academic Affairs and Clinical Transformation at Cedars-Sinai, says the hospital has already seen incredible results with the technology:

Virtual reality is like dreaming with your eyes open. I've seen patients and their families cry tears of joy using virtual reality at Cedars-Sinai to reduce pain without medications or drugs. AppliedVR's work is helping us to achieve these compelling results.

Virtual and augmented reality experiences are becoming more commonplace in some surprising settings. If the success of the zombifyingly addictive augmented reality game Pokémon Go is any indicator of future trends, we could all soon be either living a mixed-reality existence or using VR to cure ourselves of our crippling game addictions.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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