Background Virtual Reality (VR) provides an immersive computer generated 3-dimensional experience allowing the brain to perceive an entirely different environment and has positive effects in management of pain and anxiety in a variety of populations. Despite potential benefits there remains limited evidence regarding the feasibility and outcomes of VR in palliative care, particularly in the acute hospital setting.
Methodology We offered patients referred to a hospital-based specialist palliative care team, experiencing symptoms of pain or anxiety access to a VR intervention. This comprised of a short visual experience lasting approximately 7 minutes. Participants rated pain and anxiety on a 0–10 Likert scale immediately pre and post intervention and completed an evaluation form, including free text description of their experience. We analysed change in symptom scores using parametric statistics.
Results 28 participants (19 female, 9 male, age range 25 – 84 years) used the VR equipment a total of 42 times with no adverse events. Mean VAS pain score reduced by 28.6% from 4.10 (SD = 2.71) pre intervention, to 2.93 (SD=2.45) immediately post intervention (t(27)=5.150, p<0.001). Mean anxiety scores reduced by 40.3% from 4.43 (SD=2.56) to 2.65 (SD=2.24); t(27)=5.058, p<0.001.
23 participants completed a written evaluation, rating the overall experience on average as 4.7/5; All would recommend the experience to a friend. The VR experience was described as absorbing, relaxing, and distracting; Staff observed visible relaxation during usage. One patient reported it enabled them to undergo a painful intervention. One patient declined the VR experience as they were unable to tolerate the goggles.
Conclusion VR was largely well received and had a positive effect on pain, anxiety, and feelings of wellbeing. Larger scale evaluation with longer follow up and repeated exposure will generate important data on feasibility and patient outcomes.
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