Virtual Reality Takes Young Patients’ Minds Off Medical Procedures

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WEST DES MOINES, Iowa –Going to the doctor for a procedure can be nerve wracking, especially for young kiddos. One metro outpatient clinic is testing out technology to make it more entertaining. Doctors say the distraction really helps them.

It doesn't hurt, but a big bump on Harper's cheek has Mom Nicole Stribe concerned. "Just a couple weeks ago, she presented with a swollen check, a gland that's right here," she said.

Harper came to the Iowa ENT Center for an ultrasound. To take her mind off the procedure, she went swimming with dolphins. "Now I'm under water," she said.

Child Life Specialist Courtney Mergen simply put on goggles to distract the five year-old. "We like to use it anytime there's a procedure done in the office. We've also explored using it in the surgical settings, as well as IV insertions prior to surgery," she said.

The Iowa ENT Center got the virtual reality goggles through a company called Applied VR. They started experimenting with the technology in December. "There have been research studies on the goggles being used in hospital settings for burn patients. And, so we're hoping to add to that empirical research in the future too in how they're used in outpatient setting," she said

The virtual reality experience is immersive and makes young patients forget they’re at the doctor having a medical procedure. Mergen said, "It's a 360 degree experience. Anywhere they turn: up down, behind them, they're in that world, and so it's really neat to be able to give them a space to escape to during a procedure that might cause them anxiety."

The virtual reality technology also helps doctors, buying them more time to do procedures. The next step is to provide an experience that keeps kids still. Dr. Eytan Young said, "There's a tree of life program being developed, where you can look at the tree and the more you concentrate on the fixed point, the more the tree grows, develops, more is happening in your field of vision, if you look away everything starts to die. And so, that's an amazing way of getting the child to concentrate."

It helped Harper and her mom. Stribe said, "It brought her nervousness down. She wasn't anxious, and that helps her, and it helps mom, you know, worrying about her freaking out a bit being nervous about it."


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