A study underway at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Benioff Children’s Hospital is testing an innovative virtual reality app to help manage pain for kids with sickle cell disease.

Simon Robertson, a game developer for KindVR, and volunteer at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital has created a VR program that incorporates an interactive underwater setting. During the study for the VR program, patients were asked to participate in a survey to assess the locations, intensity, and nature of their pain. Then they would immerse themselves a the VR underwater world and interact with the environment with the use of a wireless Bluetooth controller or touchpad located on the side of the VR headset. Upon conclusion of the 15 minute VR session, the patients were then asked the same survey questions again, and this time they had reported less pain intensity and fewer locations on their body experiencing pain, according to the SFChronicle.

The idea is that the level of immersion is greater in this mobile VR environment than with a simple cell phone game or video, and there are other case studies and reports showing that. Pediatric patients seem to have higher levels of immersion with VR, as noted in a 2007 study in the Archives of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. Younger patients in general also are more open to the use of VR in healthcare as was demonstrated in a recent feasibility study with VR from Cedars-Sinai. While the final published pilot study results of the use of KindVR for sickle cell disease are still pending, additional studies with the increased availability of affordable VR devices are quite likely.