Could virtual reality act as an adjunctive analgesic during routine surgical procedures? A team of orthopedic surgeons out of Melbourne, Australia recently published their findings in a study that explores the feasibility of doing just that.

In this pilot study, 9 patients underwent immersive virtual reality with their standard sedation in addition to regular regional anesthesia and were compared to a control group of another 10 patients who underwent standard regional anesthesia with sedation alone (neither group had general anesthesia).

Outcome measures included patient tolerance, patient satisfaction in sedation, amount of propofol used, and feasibility of use of VR in the operating room. The surgeries performed were standard Orthopedic operations, primarily hip and knee replacements, but also some ankle surgeries. The virtual-reality simulation used was modeled after the popular “Snow World” that came out of University of Washington for burn injury pain relief.

While the scenario presented to the patients used immersive through an Oculus Rift headset, the level of interactivity was fairly low, as patients simply watched VR scenes. Among the results were  the Virtual Reality group actually trending toward lower amount of propofol milligrams per hour used overall, although the difference was not statistically significant (155 ± 45 mg/h for control group and 63 ± 21 mg/h in the VR group (P = .088, mean difference -91.6 mg/h, 95% confidence interval -200 to 16.87 mg/h)). Additionally, there were no serious adverse reactions encountered, and the authors felt this was a feasible method to further evaluate for continued use in the operating room in future trials.

It’s still way too early to say if such a method holds true promise as an adjunct of analgesic and sedation in the operating room, but it certainly is an exciting possible option that likely has far less side effects than traditional medications. We will be eagerly awaiting any further studies that follow up on this pilot study.