Can virtual reality replace painkillers, sedatives during surgery?

From childbirth to wound care, virtual reality is being used to distract patients from their surgical pain — cutting down the need for painkillers and sedatives, according to a Mosaic Science analysis.

At University of Seattle, cognitive psychologist Hunter Hoffman, PhD, developed SnowWorld, a virtual reality game for patients to watch while undergoing wound care for severe burns. His research team found that patients who used SnowWorld had reduced pain-related brain activity and reported up to 50 percent less pain than other patients.

Dr. José Luis Mosso Vazquez, a surgeon at Panamerican University in Mexico City, uses virtual reality in a range of procedures, such as childbirth, tumor removal and upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. Although some of these procedures typically require sedatives, he has been able to perform them with only virtual reality and local anesthetic.

"I thought it was a little goofy," said Gregorio Obrador, dean of medicine at Panamerican University, when speaking with Mosaic Science about his first reaction to virtual reality in surgery. However, he continued that after considering recent research on pain relief, he is now "convinced that it does work."

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