Cedars-Sinai Medical Center recently published the results of the use of virtual reality (VR) on their inpatient service in a large feasibility study that we previously covered. Cedars has followed up on this study by publishing a second VR study, this time a systematic review of randomized controlled trials on inpatient virtual reality use.

In this systematic review, RCTs from 2005-2015 were evaluated, with a total of 2,024 initially reviewed, and 11 meeting inclusion criteria. These 11 ended up covering three general areas: eating disorders, rehabilitation (motor, cognitive), and pain management. Most studies demonstrated clinical efficacy, but were limited, as expected, by significant heterogeneity and small sample sizes. Inpatient pain management was one of the most common topics addressed in the reviewed studies, including the popular burn-management pain therapy articles we have previously noted. Very few side effects were noted and patient satisfaction with the VR treatments was primarily positive throughout the review.

It’s not surprising that several studies were noted in the rehabilitation arena in the review. One investigated the use of VR with traumatic brain injury patients (TBI) while another looked into stroke rehab with VR. The American Stroke Association’s latest clinical practice guidelines (2016) include recommendations for VR in stroke rehab, with Level A evidence for use in Hemi-neglect, and Levels B-C evidence for use in other areas (gait, upper limb motor, ADLs, cognition and visual spatial therapy).

VR technology has been available for many years, with various designs since the 1960s, but it wasn’t until recently that the technology has become mainstream. As such, research into the use of VR in healthcare has recently greatly increased and will likely continue to do so as such systems become more accessible. This systematic review concluded that “VR will undoubtedly shape the future of healthcare” – I completely agree and am excited to see what is in store for us!