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Helping keep patients safe while they alleviate pain with virtual reality

October 10, 2019

What if a physician could help ease a burn victim’s pain while cleaning their wound without the use of drugs? With VR, they can.

patient in hospital bed wears VR goggles

Some studies have found this intense pain is only intensified with fear. It’s one of the reasons why scientists are studying virtual reality applications utilizing distraction therapy for various kinds of pain management – wound care, burn care, chemotherapy, childbirth and dental procedures are just to name a few. Riley Wilson works in the Medical Materials and Technologies Business at 3M, and is excited about the potential of this technology.

“Through virtual reality, patients may feel like they are immersed into a new world,” he says.

Companies are developing software to help patients escape their pain. Some of these experiences have games built into them, allowing you to interact with your environment. For example, instead of seeing a hospital room and medical equipment, you can journey to a snowy world – one where you’ll see polar bears and penguins.

“Through virtual reality, patients may feel like they are immersed into a new world.”

Riley Wilson, 3M Medical Materials and Technologies Business

The importance of cleanliness

While not yet cleared by the FDA, physicians are assessing how virtual reality may help alleviate pain. When utilizing this technology, it is important to avoid introducing new risks.

“Practitioners are caring for patients who are in situations where their immune systems may have been compromised – such as chemo patients,” says Riley. “With people in vulnerable situations like that, the simplest illness could be life-threatening.”

This is why Riley and his team at 3M created a solution to support the distraction therapy procedures that health care professionals are utilizing in treatment.

Their solution? Disposable liners – a liner for people who are using virtual reality or augmented reality devices in a shared environment. Scientists designed the liners for use in hospitals to provide convenience, comfort and sanitary options.

Why disposables?

3M scientists purposefully created disposable facial liners, as opposed to utilizing alternative sanitizing methods to help prevent cross contamination when passing the device from user to user.

Liner placed inside VR goggles

“Often times when you’re using an anti-bacterial, anti-microbial wipe, you have to wait a certain amount of time for drying before it takes effect,” Riley explains. That didn’t meet hospital needs.

“If we’re using this device on a number of people, and there are a limited number of devices, it’s important to look at how long it takes to move from one patient to another in order to continue that treatment,” says Riley. “You would need to use a new liner anytime an AR/VR headset is shared with a new person.”

With disposables, you simply apply and remove the liners when needed. “It’s very quick. It’s very easy. It hasn’t been touched. It’s brand new. So, the disposable model just fits in with good health care practices.”

Making its mark

While the liners themselves are disposable, Riley is confident and hopeful that this technology is going to stick around to leave behind a lasting impression – one that extends beyond the patient.

“It’s not just a distraction therapy for the patient, but also for the family – where they also get to be distracted by this piece of technology that’s coming into the room. With this technology, they won’t be sitting there dwelling on the fact that something that may be painful is happening to their family member,” says Riley.

“Some of the people I’ve been working with who are looking to use these liners have heart-wrenching stories. It’s hard to watch some of the things that these patients are inflicted with and how they’re dealing with it. To be a part of lessening that pain is very special.”

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