Background: Medical procedures often evoke pain and anxiety in pediatric patients. Virtual reality (VR) is a relatively new intervention that can be used to provide distraction during, or to prepare patients for, medical procedures. This meta-analysis is the first to collate evidence on the effectiveness of VR on reducing pain and anxiety in pediatric patients undergoing medical procedures.
Methods: On April 25, 2018, we searched EMBASE, MEDLINE, CENTRAL, PubMed, Web of Science, and PsycINFO with the keywords "VR," "children," and "adolescents." Studies that applied VR in a somatic setting with participants ≤21 years of age were included. VR was defined as a fully immersive 3-dimensional environment displayed in surround stereoscopic vision on a head-mounted display (HMD). We evaluated pain and anxiety outcomes during medical procedures in VR and standard care conditions.
Results: We identified 2889 citations, of which 17 met our inclusion criteria. VR was applied as distraction (n = 16) during venous access, dental, burn, or oncological care or as exposure (n = 1) before elective surgery under general anesthesia. The effect of VR was mostly studied in patients receiving burn care (n = 6). The overall weighted standardized mean difference (SMD) for VR was 1.30 (95% CI, 0.68-1.91) on patient-reported pain (based on 14 studies) and 1.32 (95% CI, 0.21-2.44) on patient-reported anxiety (based on 7 studies). The effect of VR on pediatric pain was also significant when observed by caregivers (SMD = 2.08; 95% CI, 0.55-3.61) or professionals (SMD = 3.02; 95% CI, 0.79-2.25). For anxiety, limited observer data were available.
Conclusions: VR research in pediatrics has mainly focused on distraction. Large effect sizes indicate that VR is an effective distraction intervention to reduce pain and anxiety in pediatric patients undergoing a wide variety of medical procedures. However, further research on the effect of VR exposure as a preparation tool for medical procedures is needed because of the paucity of research into this field.