How Stanford researchers use virtual reality to ease anxiety before operations

A new clinical trial at Stanford (Calif.) University is testing how virtual reality technology can ease the anxiety of pediatric patients and their parents who are Spanish speakers with limited English proficiency, according to STAT.

The researcher, Ahtziri Fonseca, developed the idea after learning Spanish-speaking parents of pediatric patients undergoing medical procedures showed more anxiety than normal for those cases, often due to language and cultural barriers. Ms. Fonseca found parents' anxiety could sometimes transfer to their children, making them have more anxiety about their own procedure.

Ms. Fonseca's team already had software for guiding users through breathing exercises in virtual reality with voiceovers in English, so Ms. Fonseca, a native Spanish speaker, envisioned having those voiceovers translated into Spanish.

The idea led to the new clinical trial, which has enrolled almost 10 Spanish-speaking parents since it began in August. When parents wait in the pre-operative area before their child goes in for their procedure, the researchers ask if they want to participate in the study.

When the pediatric patients get wheeled in for their procedure, their parent puts on the virtual reality headset, placing parents into a calming natural world with a flowing waterfall and colorful lights. A Spanish-language voiceover guides parents through breathing exercises.

After a session about six- to 10-minutes long, the parents rate their own anxiety on a scale from 1 to 10. A control group that waits for six or 10 minutes without the headset also rates their anxiety level.

Ms. Fonseca, who works at Stanford's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital as a clinical research coordinator, hopes to expand the trial to include a randomized group of 250 English and Spanish-language speakers.

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