Newswise — Although virtual reality isn’t a new technology in healthcare, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles’ investigators are using it in new ways. A virtual reality interactive experience was created by scientists and doctors at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in a special collaboration. It features Doc McStuffins, the popular TV character. The experience, Doc McStuffins: Doctor For a Day (DocVR), was used in a recent , study to reduce fear among children undergoing surgery.
Nearly 5 million children have surgery each year. More than half experience anxiety prior to the procedure. Anxiety prior to surgery can lead to a slower recovery, sleep disturbances, and other problems in the weeks afterward.
” Children who are undergoing painful procedures regularly will report feeling more relaxed if they have something to read or do. Dr. Gold is the Director at the Biobehavioral pain Lab and the Children’s Outcomes, Research and Evaluation (CORE), Program at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “Pain is very complex, but we know that shifting the patient’s attention away from the pain can be very powerful.”
19 years ago, Dr. Gold began investigating the use of VR for children having to undergo a blood draw. Many children became so absorbed in the game that they didn’t notice the procedure. He says that what started as a small research project has now become a routinely available option for children who request it. We have children coming to the hospital excited to play the game and reporting less pain and distress. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the best possible impact our research could have.”
Because VR so powerfully reduces discomfort, pain and fear, Dr. Gold wondered if he and his team could apply it in other areas, such as surgery–where anxiety can greatly affect not only a patient family’s experience, but the well-being of the child. He says that there is evidence to show that children who are calm before going under anesthesia wake up feeling calm. But if a child is anxious before surgery, they may become irritable. We want to ease their worry without adding more medications to the equation.”
So how can healthcare professionals help a child feel safe and relaxed before something as daunting as surgery?
Dr. Gold explained that children are happier and less afraid when they engage in medicalplay . Medical play is facilitated by child life specialists and trained professionals. It allows children to explore their fears and feelings about medical experiences. Dr. Gold believes that VR is a great tool for medical play. To help children feel more at ease before surgery, Dr. Gold and his team from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles collaborated with Disney Junior.
” The ‘Doc McStuffins – Doctor for a day’ VR experience was years in the making,” Vicki Ariyasu, Senior vice president, Disney Branded Television Educational Resource Group and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, states. We are grateful to Dr. Gold, his team, and their thoughtful collaboration. We hope that they will continue spreading Doc’s message about health, wellness, and compassion to children who most need it. “
She says, “The ability to positively impact children’s lives in hospitals while using VR technology in such a unique and innovative way inspired us all. “
The experience was created by Disney’s Media and Entertainment Distribution Consumer Experiences and Platforms division, in partnership with the CHLA team. It allows children to play with Doc McStuffins (a Disney Junior character).
” They get to be a doctor for one day,” Dr. Gold says. They are literally sewing seams on stuffed animal limbs. The children use an interactive hand-held wand to move it around to an animated character and hear its heartbeat. Although this may seem like lighthearted fun, the effect on them was very profound.
The study followed 51 patients undergoing surgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. After playing the game, 97% of the children reported feeling more comfortable at the hospital and 74% said they felt less frightened. The study provides strong evidence that children can engage in immersive play before and during surgery. The ability to reduce fear prior to a procedure can have ripple effects that will improve the child’s health and wellbeing throughout their recovery.
” The goal is to provide VR as a routine service to children, so that they look forward to it and expect it.” Dr. Gold says. “I’d love to have VR available to help children get through a variety of routine medical procedures.”
“We don’t want the healthcare experience to contribute toward a child’s adverse childhood experiences,” he says. When a child is required to return for another procedure or medical appointments, a stressful hospital experience can lead to a lot of stress. Children’s Hospital Los Angeles sees more than half of patients with chronic conditions. This means that most children visit multiple times per month.
” “It’s impossible for us to eliminate all fear from surgery,” Dr. Gold says. However, we do our best to alleviate as much of the fear as possible. We want to create comfort and show these kids that we really do care about their entire person: mind and body.”
Additional authors on the study are Erin T. Annick, Arianna S. Lane, Katherine Ho, Ryan T. Marty, and Juan C. Espinoza, MD, all of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Disney Junior supported the research and execution of the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles study. The child life specialists were able to allow the team to work in the preoperative area, as well as to patients and their families.
Virtual Reality headsets with the “Doc McStuffins Doctor for a Day” experience were made available by Starlight Children’s Foundation, whose mission it is to bring happiness to severely ill children. Thanks to their contribution, the “Doc McStuffins: Doctor for a Day” experience was available to participating patients at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and is also available to other children on over 1,800 headsets at more than 400 pediatric facilities across the country.
About Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Founded in 1901, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is the highest-ranked children’s hospital in California and fifth in the nation on the prestigious U.S. News & World Report Honor Roll of Best Children’s Hospitals. U.S. News ranks Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in all 10 specialty categories. Clinical care at the hospital is led by physicians who are faculty members of the Keck School of Medicine of USC through an affiliation dating from 1932. The hospital also has the largest freestanding pediatric residency program in the Western United States. The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles houses all basic, translational and clinical research at the hospital. This allows for proven discoveries to be quickly reached patients. Our mission is to inspire hope and create healthier futures. To learn more, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter, and visit our blog at CHLA.org/blog.
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