Videogames have transformed immeasurably over the last twenty years. Many now have exceptional graphics and stories that can take hundreds of hours to complete and some even allow people to step directly into their worlds through the use of Virtual Reality (VR).
But what does the evolution of videogames have to do with healthcare or dentistry? A recent article suggests that VR videogames are making a big difference for people suffering from chronic pain and anxiety.
The article explored how a VR game called SnowWorld – an immersive game that involves throwing snowballs whilst flying through a virtual ice canyon – has been proven to be an effective distraction method for people suffering from chronic pain and offered them 50% more pain relief in addition to what they already got from painkilling medicines.[i] This means that this game was far more effective than other methods such as letting patients listen to music or playing ordinary videogames.[ii]
What is also interesting about this VR technology is that it may have applications outside of pain management. The article postulates that VR could help people who suffer from anxiety as it convinces people they are in a different scenario and distracts their minds by giving them an objective to complete.[iii]
This again shows potential for use in dentistry and healthcare in general. Can you imagine a practice where anxious patients could lose themselves in a VR world before, after or even during treatment? We all know dental anxiety continues to be a big problem for a significant portion of the UK population, so anything that could help combat this could be a huge game changer in the future.
However, we also need to factor in other possibilities such as patients not enjoying the games that this software provides – if the patient gets bored will their mind wander back to the pain they are in / will their anxieties spike once more? It’s also worth considering that some people may be uncomfortable using the technology in the first place, especially if they are unfamiliar with immersive videogames or they suffer from motion sickness.
It may only be in its beginning stages, but VR games may very well prove to be an important leap forward in pain management. All we can do is wait and see.
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[i] BHEKISISA. Gaming Medicine: Virtual Reality is Bringing Real-Time Relief for Chronic Pain. Link: https://bhekisisa.org/article/2019-01-15-00-virtual-reality-pain-management-opioid-crisis-solution [Last accessed January 19].
[ii] Hoffman, H., Chambers, G., Meyer, W., Arceneaux, L., Russell, W., Seibel, E., Richards, T., Sharar, S., Patterson, D. Virtual Reality as an Adjunctive Non-pharmacologic Analgesic for Acute Burn Pain During Medical Procedures. Ann Behav Med. 2011 Apr; 41(2): 183–191.
[iii] BHEKISISA. Gaming Medicine: Virtual Reality is Bringing Real-Time Relief for Chronic Pain. Link: https://bhekisisa.org/article/2019-01-15-00-virtual-reality-pain-management-opioid-crisis-solution [Last accessed January 19].