There is growing evidence that virtual reality could ease pain during surgery. mit news reports that researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston have published a study indicating that patients using VR headsets require less anesthesia during hand surgery. While the average conventional patient needed 750.6 milligrams per hour of the sedative propofol, people watching relaxing VR content (such as meditation, nature scenes, and videos) needed only 125.3 milligrams. They also recovered sooner, leaving the postanesthesia unit at an average of 63 minutes versus 75 minutes.

Scientists say virtual reality distracted patients from pain that would otherwise require their full attention. However, the researchers also admitted that headset users might have gone into surgery expecting VR to help them, which could skew the results.

However, the Beth Israel Deaconess team is planning trials that could rule out this placebo effect. A follow-up trial will also test the effect of virtual reality on patients undergoing hip and knee surgery. Previous experiments, such as at St. Joseph’s Hospital in France, have indicated that the technology can help calm patients.

The appeal to health care providers is clear. Patients can suffer less and go home sooner. Hospitals, for their part, could make the most of their anesthesia supplies, freeing up recovery beds and reducing wait times. What a provider spends on VR headsets could only pay for itself by enabling more patients and higher-quality treatment.

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