Virtual Reality Can Distract and Entertain Patients Going Under Anesthesia

Whether you’re nine years old or fifty-nine years old, having surgery is always a pretty nerve-racking experience. When the procedure requires anesthesia, this can add even more apprehension before going under the knife. In the past, doctors have tried to find ways to entertain patients as they are preparing to go under anesthesia in hopes to distract them and calm their nerves. A fairly new technology, virtual reality, can distract and entertain patients going under anesthesia.

A new program at Texas Children’s Hospital aims to calm pediatric patients before heading into surgery. The program is known as the CHARIOT program – Childhood Anxiety Reduction through Innovation and Technology – and it is designed to distract patients through virtual reality during the beginning stages of anesthesia. 

“The use of our various technologies has made it easier to focus our patients’ attention away from an experience that is new and different and possibly frightening to them and on to something that they’re much more comfortable with—and it helps them work through this experience to get surgical procedures that they very much need,” said Clint Fuller, M.D., a pediatric anesthesiologist at Texas Children’s Hospital. “It’s made it a much easier process both for them and for us.”

Depending on the age and preference of the child, the suite of technology has different entertainment options the patients can choose from. Many will choose to watch their favorite Disney movie while another child may want to play an interactive game to pass the time. 

While the program originally started as a way to distract children before going under anesthesia, they are now using it for other procedures including IV placement, oral exams, scopes and more.

“I think it was really helpful, definitely with the anxiety, because we’re doing these invasive procedures where we’re putting scopes in their noses and their mouths and it’s kind of intimidating and scary for them,” Julina Ongkasuwan, M.D., pediatric otolaryngologist and director of the Pediatric Voice Clinic at Texas Children’s said  “This is definitely a change in our approach, and I think anything we can do to decrease the trauma is beneficial, especially for those kids who have to come repeatedly.”

The CHARIOT program first began at Stanford Children’s Health in California and Texas Children’s is one of the first hospitals in the nation to start using an entertainment suite. While these programs are currently for children, it seems that they would be beneficial for adult patients experiencing anxiety before a procedure.