Efficacy of a Virtual Reality Program in Pediatric Surgery to Reduce Anxiety and Distress Symptoms in the Preoperative Phase: A Prospective Randomized Clinical Trial


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Background: Virtual reality (VR) experience is the most adopted form of video-gaming to reduce preoperative anxiety. This prospective randomized clinical trial aimed to examine the feasibility and efficacy of preoperative VR experience in children undergoing elective surgery.Materials and Methods: All patients older than 13 years and scheduled for elective surgery between March and June 2021 were enrolled. Preoperative VR experience consisted in watching a 5-minute video using a head-mounted display. Four parameters were evaluated and compared between the two groups: (1) patient heart rate (HR) before anesthesia; (2) patient evaluation of preoperative anxiety using facial affective scale (FAS); (3) anesthesiologist evaluation of preoperative anxiety using FAS; and (4) subjective stress scoring using a 5-item Likert-type scale.Results: A total of 40 patients (23 boys) with a median age of 14.5 years (range 12-17) participated in the study. The patients were randomized in two groups, each of 20 patients, according to preoperative VR experience: VR group (G1) and control group (G2). No adverse events related to VR occurred. The patient median HR was significantly lower in G1 (72 bpm) than in G2 (101 bpm) (P = .001). The very relaxed/relaxed face selection rate using FAS was significantly higher in G1 than in G2, in both patient and anesthesiologist evaluations (P = .001). Finally, the subjective patient scoring of operating room experience was significantly greater in G1 [4.6 +/- 0.4] than in G2 [2.15 +/- 1.07] (P = .001).Conclusions: Our preliminary results showed that VR is safe and effective to relieve anxiety and improve relaxation in the preoperative period in pediatric patients undergoing elective surgery. The VR experience resulted in decreased overall anxiety and increased overall positive affect during the preoperative period in VR group compared with the control group. Further studies are needed to investigate this technology in the postoperative phase and on a larger patient cohort.
virtual reality, pediatrics, distraction, preoperative distress, anxiety
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