A Phoenix-area hospital, Banner Health University, is launching a pilot program for using virtual reality in the delivery room. They hope to decrease pain and potentially the need for narcotic medication, all through a virtual journey to a scenic, relaxing environment. Women may get to wear the headsets in the last minutes prior to childbirth. They demonstrated one of their setups in a recent interview, using a Samsung Gear VR headset with headphones, complete with a relaxing virtual environments to enjoy: beaches and ambient landscapes. It’s very similar to the approach companies like AppliedVR have taken for pain relief with visceral pain. As pain is modulated by attention, so the theory is that transporting the patient to a virtual, engaging environment may help relieve acute pain. This isn’t the first time Banner Health University has been in the media for using virtual reality. Earlier this summer, the institution’s Rehabilitation department was featured for its use of non-immersive virtual reality for helping those with traumatic brain injuries.

While using virtual reality for pain relief isn’t new (multiple studies have been published on the topic, particularly in the realm of burn injury analgesia), hardly any research is available on the use of VR in the labor and delivery environment. One recent randomized clinical trial out of Iran investigated the use of virtual reality in the post-delivery setting, specifically for pain relief during episiotomy repair. Half of the patients received standard care with local analgesia alone, while the other half also wore a VR headset. Numeric Pain Rating Scale scores were lower amongst the VR group, with a statistically significant difference between the two. Of note, one patient had to have the intervention discontinued when it ran out of battery during the procedure!

Hopefully, the results of this pilot program at Banner will be published, as this is clearly an area where utilizing VR may be of significant benefit.