Using virtual reality to reduce procedural pain in general practice

Morgan Liotta

16/04/2020 10:34:52 AM

Routine immunisations are a common reason children experience pain and distress as a result of interacting with a healthcare provider.

Dr Kirrily Ellerton
Dr Kirrily Ellerton’s research team share a common goal of reducing procedural pain in children in a general practice setting.

Various techniques are recommended to reduce this pain and distress, including optimisation of positioning and injection techniques, tactile stimulation, topical anaesthesia, and distraction techniques such as lollies.
However, Dr Kirrily Ellerton’s research project aims to tackle children’s experience of immunisation pain in a unique way – through virtual reality (VR).
‘The VRIMM study. Virtual Reality for Immunisation Pain: A randomised controlled clinical trial in general practice’ received a 2018 RACGP Foundation Family Medical Care Education and Research (FMCER) grant.
The study seeks to compare, in the setting of a randomised trial, existing standard techniques with an increasingly popular technology – VR – to reduce the pain and distress experienced by children undergoing routine four-year-old vaccination in a general practice setting. 
If successful, the project team will be able to demonstrate the utility of VR for painful minor procedures. The technology is easily applied to older children and adults undergoing similar procedures, and may reduce the development of needle phobia in later life.
Dr Ellerton told newsGP the idea came about from a previous project.
‘There was a similar study undertaken at Monash Medical Centre a few years ago, looking at the use of VR in children. My husband, an emergency physician in paediatrics, was also involved,’ she said.
‘In discussing the project, we thought VR could be a really useful tool in the general practice setting, so decided to run a trial to test its efficacy.’
The VRIMM study will be undertaken in a large urban-fringe general practice that sees approximately 1000 patients per week, facilitated by a research team made up of GPs, general practice nurses and a paediatric emergency physician with the a common goal of reducing procedural pain in children.
Dr Ellerton is hoping to implement the technology into general practice following the trial.
‘Provided our results are positive, VR would likely be most useful during vaccinations and minor procedures,’ she said.
‘Although four-year-old children have been the focus of this study, perhaps we could also look at its utility in older children and adults.’   
Looking to the future, Dr Ellerton is anticipating completion of the data-collection phase of the trial and hopes to present findings later this year.
‘In addition, [my husband] and I have also recently published a book developed as a desktop reference for general practice, The Doctor’s Bag Companion, designed to reduce medication errors, assist as a ready reference in emergency situations for both children and adults, as well as giving useful tips in the areas of palliative care, wounds and burns dressings,’ she said. 
‘As for further research opportunities, we’ll have to wait and see.’
In order to support members currently impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the RACGP is extending application dates for the 2020 Foundation grants. More information is available on the RACGP website.
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