Scoping review: How is virtual reality being used as a tool to support the experience of undergoing Magnetic resonance imaging?

Radiography (Lond). 2022 Feb;28(1):199-207. doi: 10.1016/j.radi.2021.07.008. Epub 2021 Jul 22.


Objectives: Undergoing a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan continues to be a source of anxiety and concern for many patients. Various interventions have been developed and are used in regular clinical practice to support patients through the procedure. A novel approach which is gaining traction is that of virtual reality (VR) as a tool to support patient experience in MRI. This scoping review considers how it is currently being used and developed and discusses how effective it may be.

Key findings: The eight papers found show a range of approaches being used; as a preparatory tool, exposure therapy or distraction technique. All of which show general positive influence on patient anxiety, compliance, and acceptability. The more recent, but limited number of papers, show this to be a developing field.

Conclusion: The potential for the use of VR lies in its ability to closely replicate the real world as a preparatory and exposure technique for those likely to experience concerns over the MRI procedure itself. The reality of the virtual environment also provides opportunity to spend time coaching patients in advance without the need to take up actual scanner time, thereby providing a safe space in which preparation and support can be given.

Implications for practice: It is argued that a better understanding of the theoretical basis on which VR may be working would further help development and implementation in clinical practice. This could then support a truly patient-centred approach to management of claustrophobia and associated anxieties related to MRI.

Keywords: Anxiety; Claustrophobia; Magnetic resonance imaging; Patient experience; Virtual environment; Virtual reality.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Virtual Reality*