Cedars-Sinai Medical Center has recently announced a new study in the works using virtual reality (VR) for pain management in hospitalized medical and surgical patients.

Virtual reality using, in most cases, consumer headsets like Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift, or Gear VR are being tested in many areas of medicine, from treating psychiatric conditions to helping train medical students.

Designed to be a randomized controlled trial (RCT), this study aims to compare the use of actual VR to a non-VR sham intervention (a televised health and wellness channel). Both medical and surgical patients are to be included in the study, and measured outcomes are reportedly pain intensity ratings, amounts of morphine equivalents needed, time between medication requests, as well as a variety of secondary outcome measurements (length of stay, quality of life, function, and patient satisfaction).

Cedars-Sinai is no stranger to the use of VR in the healthcare environment, with a very recent study in the JMIR Mental Health exploring the use of immersive virtual reality among inpatients. That study, also directed by Dr. Brennan Spiegel, explored the acceptability and feasibility of VR use among 30 admitted patients with a Samsung Gear VR headset. Designed as a feasibility analysis, findings included a positive experience for most users (although the headset comfort was noted to be lacking), and reports of decreasing both pain and anxiety. A marked age difference in willingness to utilize the VR devices was reported, with the majority of patients willing to utilize the Gear VR being younger (mean age 49.1, vs mean of 60.2 for those refusing headset use).

While the ClinicalTrials registration for this upcoming RCT at Cedars doesn’t reference the specific headset utilized, it’s likely to be either the previously-studied Gear VR, or another mobile platform such as Google Cardboard. This is further evidenced by the recent press release regarding the hospital’s partnership with AppliedVR, and their Pain RelieVR product. VR represents a new frontier for healthcare, with the potential to offer therapy benefits in a wide range of clinical settings. Having a strong evidence basis behind it is key for the continued development of such mobile technology, and we’ll be following the outcome of this upcoming RCT closely.