Using VR Tools: Easing Caregiver Stress for Children Facing Surgery

by | Oct 16, 2023

A new study presented at the ANESTHESIOLOGY® 2023 annual meeting has discovered an innovative way to help caregivers of children undergoing surgery cope with their anxiety: virtual reality (VR) intervention.

It is normal for caregivers to feel anxious when a child has surgery, but this anxiety can greatly affect the child’s well-being. Previous research has shown a connection between heightened caregiver anxiety and negative outcomes in anesthesia and recovery. Researchers have been looking for ways to reduce caregiver anxiety, but options in hospitals have been limited.

Virtual reality, an advanced technology that provides non-medication treatments for anxiety relief, has emerged as a potential solution. In a recent study, 26 caregivers of children having procedures participated, with 54% of them receiving the VR intervention. This intervention immersed caregivers in a computer-generated world showing a peaceful nature scene, along with guided mindfulness meditation.

The results were impressive. Caregivers who used VR reported significantly lower anxiety levels compared to those who only received standard care. Anxiety levels were measured through surveys, and the average anxiety level before the VR intervention was 56.5. This level dropped significantly after the intervention, showing the potential effectiveness of VR in reducing caregiver anxiety.

The study supports the idea of family-centered care, which focuses on addressing caregivers’ emotional well-being in addition to the child’s medical needs. By reducing overall distress, the VR intervention benefits both caregivers and indirectly supports the child’s recovery.

The VR application used in the study was developed by the Stanford Chariot Program, a leading research initiative at the intersection of technology and healthcare. Caregivers experienced a six-minute immersive session that allowed them to briefly escape the stressful hospital environment and find comfort in a virtual oasis.

The study also assessed how satisfied caregivers were with the VR intervention, and the results were impressive. Out of the 14 caregivers in the VR group, 12 reported satisfaction, showing the potential acceptance and feasibility of integrating VR interventions into standard care.

Anxiety affects around 74% of caregivers before their child’s surgery, highlighting the prevalence of this issue. With limited options available, VR offers a promising way to address caregiver anxiety in a non-invasive and accessible manner.

While this study provides encouraging results, further research is needed to confirm and expand on these findings. It is important to explore the long-term impact of VR interventions on caregiver anxiety and how it affects the child’s surgical experience.

As healthcare continues to advance, it is crucial to incorporate innovative approaches that address the overall well-being of patients and their caregivers. Virtual reality represents an exciting opportunity in this regard, offering a non-medication and potentially transformative solution for reducing caregiver anxiety during children’s surgical procedures.

As technology improves and VR applications become more advanced, it is hoped that these interventions will become more widely available in healthcare settings. By prioritizing caregivers’ emotional well-being, a more supportive and comforting environment can be created for both the child and their caregivers.

In the pursuit of providing comprehensive and compassionate care, virtual reality shows great promise. Through its immersive and therapeutic experiences, it has the potential to transform the surgical journey, providing comfort and relief to caregivers who play a crucial role in a child’s recovery.