Clinical Trial Finds that Virtual Reality Therapy May Serve as Effective Adjunct To Anesthesia For Surgical Procedures

The results of a clinical trial using software from XRHealth, developer and operator of virtual treatment rooms in the metaverse,  published in PLOS ONE demonstrated that virtual reality therapy may serve as an effective adjunct to anesthesia for surgical procedures. The trials were conducted with XRHealth’s immersive virtual reality software.

The clinical trial consisted of 34 patients undergoing hand and wrist surgery. All the patients were given a peripheral nerve block before surgery.  Patients were randomized to intraoperative immersive virtual reality with intravenous anesthesia only given as needed, or to usual care as directed by the anesthesiologist. The VR therapy software provided an immersive, engaging environment that guided patients through relaxation and pain reduction techniques while undergoing the surgery.

A) Image of a study patient using the VR equipment. B) Screenshot of a typical immersive environment with an example of text communication from study personnel. The individual in this manuscript has given written informed consent (as outlined in PLOS consent form) to publish this image.

The results of the trial showed that the majority of patients (13/17) using the XRHealth VR technology did not need any intravenous sedatives during surgery. A postoperative survey demonstrated similarly low levels of pain and anxiety for patients in both control groups.  Other secondary findings demonstrated that patients using the VR technology recovered from anesthesia more quickly and left the recovery room earlier than those in the usual care group.

“Anesthesia providers are always trying to balance the primary interests of patient comfort and patient safety.  Our results demonstrate that VR may help provide satisfactory control of pain and anxiety for procedures such as upper extremity surgery with regional anesthesia,” says senior study author Brian O’Gara, MD MPH, Principal Investigator at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “This is incredibly valuable in that VR may allow for avoidance of risky sedatives without detracting from the patient experience.  If the use of this technique can also aid perioperative efficiency, it has the potential to be a real game-changer for both patients and providers.”

These findings could lead to a discussion in the medical industry about using non-pharmaceutical interventions during surgical procedures that both enhance the patient experience during surgery and provide a better postoperative recovery.

“Transporting patients to different treatment rooms in the metaverse while undergoing operations in the real world can provide significant medical breakthroughs in the healthcare industry; managing pain and anxiety in a virtual environment can be a game changer for coping through surgical procedures and will help the patients’ body heal faster eliminating the recovery from the anesthesia,” says Eran Orr, CEO of XRHealth.

The BIRD Foundation granted XRHealth and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center $900K to conduct clinical trials investigating whether immersive VR can reduce sedative requirements and improve patient satisfaction during knee replacement surgery and improve the quality of recovery from bariatric surgery.