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Virtual reality could reduce need for some sedation during surgery

Posted at 3:56 PM, Oct 19, 2022

You might not expect it, but virtual reality is becoming a new way to take the edge off during surgery.

One recent study tested virtual reality headsets and goggles on patients during hand surgery.

"It made them comfortable enough to tolerate having surgery on an insensate arm in comparison to usual care," said Dr. Adeel Faruki, an assistant professor of anesthesiology at the University of Colorado at the medical school.

The majority of patients who used VR went through surgery without a sedative.

By comparison, patients who didn't use VR all needed a sedative to get through the procedure. Faruki stressed that this is not the same sort of virtual reality experience you might find in a movie theater or on the Meta Quest.

"Patients got to choose between immersive environments," said Faruki. "It could be a starry sky background with a little screen in the middle, where if they move their head, it would move away from the screen. But it could also be kind of a guided meditation."

The hand surgery study is one of several research projects about virtual reality and sedatives.

Other research is testing the use of virtual reality in pediatric surgery and weight loss surgery.

Experts believe it could be widely available within a few years.

"These virtual reality headsets that we used were medical grade," said Dr. Faruki. "They were set up to be used in an operating room environment. So this is not very far away."