The Sunday Telegraph (a major UK and international newspaper and website) published a story on the virtual reality abstract 3356 (Dr Dragos Chirnoaga from CUB Erasmus Hospital, Brussels, Belgium).
Click here to view the article on the newspaper’s website, and see full text below:
Sunday Telegraph, Sunday 2 June
Hypnosis works better than strong anaesthetic and could soon become the norm for elderly people undergoing arthritis operations following a landmark trial.
Medics have hailed the results of a new study where anaesthetic powerful enough to put patients to sleep was successfully replaced with a virtual reality experience.
Participants in need of shoulder, hand or knee operations were given headsets and taken on a virtual submarine tour, with a soothing female voice pointing out various fish and other underwater features.
They had each been given a local anaesthetic, but the virtual reality hypnosis distraction (VRHD) was used to replace the intravenous sedation such patients would normally have got.
This can put people to sleep, but does not induce the full controlled coma of a general anaesthetic.
Doctors at the CUB Erasmus Hospital in Brussels found that the VRHD successfully replaced intravenous sedation in three quarters of patients who had the submarine sedation during the operation.
Meanwhile 90 per cent of those who had VRHD for ten minutes before as well as during the operation did not require intravenous sedation.
The researchers said virtual reality hypnosis would be ideal for elderly patients undergoing these types of non-major joint operations because they do not come with the risks of heavy sedation and the longer recovery time.
Intravenous sedation typically causes side-effects such as drowsiness, headaches and dry mouth for several hours.
Dr Delphine Van Hecke, who co-led the research, said: “While it is not clear exactly how virtual reality works to reduce anxiety and pain, it’s thought that it creates a distraction that stops the mind feeling pain.
“Further studies should focus on other procedures suited for the use of VRHD, particularly its potential benefit in children as premedication or during low pain procedures.”
Presented at the Euroanaesthesia Congress in Vienna, the results also showed that patients receiving VRHD showed similar comfort and satisfaction levels before and during the procedure as those given intravenous sedation.
The virtual reality software, which allowed the patients to look round 360 degrees, was designed to slow the patients’ breathing rhythm.
Dr Dragos Chirnoaga, the other lead researcher, said: “Given the immersive and distracting nature of the virtual reality experience, this technology has the ability to act as a preventative intervention transforming local anaesthesia into a less distressing and potentially pain-free medical procedure.”
The trial involved 60 adults scheduled for orthopaedic surgery with a local anaesthetic. A control group of twenty were randomly assigned standard intravenous sedation without any virtual reality, while a second group was given VRHD during the procedure and only given intravenous sedation if patients reported pain scores of three out of 10.
The third group of 20 started the VRHD before the procedure. The results also showed a reduction in anxiety in patients who had not had intravenous sedation compared to those who had.
One-off cases of people undergoing operations without anaesthetic following hypnosis have long been reported, however scientists have until now failed to devise a standardised hypnosis approach which works for all patients.
Dr Chirnoaga said his method would need to be trialed on larger patient bodies before being approved for general use. Parallel research is also taking place into the genetic explanations for pain in a bid to devise therapies to “switch off” genes responsible.