Could Virtual Reality be Useful for Healthcare in Congenital Heart Diseases?

Could Virtual Reality be Useful for Healthcare in Congenital Heart Diseases?
By Jasmine Leung

The smell of hospital invades your nostrils and colors start to fade on faces. Sweat dots appear on your forehead and you try to swallow in hopes of calming your neuroses, but it does not work. You become more nervous when a nurse comes into the room and asks you to “sit back and relax.” A needle flares brightly across your face, and with a blink of an eye, you are being injected. The needle strikes, the substance now lingers in your system and finally you can sulk and catch your breath.

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We may resonate with the stress that comes with getting injected. Now imagine this stress, but in the shoes of 7-year-old kid who has a heightened fear toward clinical and medical procedures.

Technology is developing in leaps and bounds, but can advancement change this situation?

This is a question for Anne Dubin, M.D. and pediatric electrophysiology professor. This is also a question for Lauren Schneider, assistant clinical professor in child and adolescent psychology. Both work at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford where they led a pilot study – Project Brave Heart – testing whether virtual reality (VR) can lessen stress on the catheterization of young patients. The intuitive model aims to challenge the assumption that VR preparation could be useful in relieving patients’ stress and/or anxiety before real procedures are practiced.
40 patients, aging from 8-25 years of age were invited to conduct the first ever investigation of the impact of VR on pediatric patients with congenital heart diseases. Half of the participants acted as a control group, meaning they had their usual anesthesia practice at outpatient clinics. Comparatively, the other half would be given VR headsets at home before injection. They were offered a virtual tour right from the hospital entrance. The navigation extends to inside the preparation room for receiving anesthesia, as well as the recovery room called the Cath Lab. VR participants can interact with paramedics, and can also be guided in understanding more about their future procedures. VR users were encouraged to try VR to help calm their nerves.

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All participants would be monitored before and after the catheterization. Cortisol, a stress hormone, would be one of the measurement scales for the group comparison, apart from one’s heart rate and blood pressure. Questionnaires would also be handed out to gather data on their levels of stress.

The study was carried out in March 2017 and the results have yet to be concluded.

VR technology has been a growing business for medical research. While the results are yet to be announced, technology is stepping in the right direction of aiming to benefit people. Even if these steps are small, baby steps are better than none, right?

Here is the introductory clip of the Project Brave Heart:



Stanford Children’s Health. (2017). Project Brave Heart: Studying the impact of virtual reality preparation and relaxation therapy. Retrieved June 29, 2017, from