Virtual Reality as Anxiolysis During Laceration Repair in the Pediatric Emergency Department

J Emerg Med. 2022 Jul;63(1):72-82. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2022.01.025. Epub 2022 Aug 5.


Background: Although procedural pain is effectively treated with analgesics, managing anxiety during laceration repair is more challenging.

Objectives: We examined the feasibility of using immersive virtual reality (VR) as anxiolysis during laceration repair in the pediatric emergency department (ED).

Methods: We conducted a non-blinded, observational, pilot study in an urban pediatric ED that enrolled a convenience sample of children aged 5-13 years undergoing sutured repair of non-facial lacerations. Subjects played an immersive VR game while undergoing laceration repair. Parents assessed their child's anxiety on a 100-mm visual analogue scale at enrollment and during laceration repair. The primary outcome measure was the percentage of children whose anxiety score did not increase by ≥ 20 mm from enrollment to the first stitch.

Results: Forty patients completed the study. Mean initial anxiety score was 54 mm (standard deviation 33 mm). Thirty-seven of forty patients (93%; 95% confidence interval [CI] 83-99%) had anxiety scores that did not increase by 20 mm or more from enrollment to the first stitch. Eighty percent (95% CI 64-91%) of patients' anxiety scores decreased between enrollment and first stitch. The mean change in anxiety score at first stitch was -39 mm (95% CI -51 mm to -27 mm; p < 0.001). Similar downward trends in anxiety scores were noted throughout the procedure. All laceration repairs were successfully completed without sedation or restraints. There were no adverse events noted, and the main barriers identified with VR use involved easily correctable technical difficulties with the equipment.

Conclusion: Immersive VR is a safe and effective distractive technique to reduce procedural anxiety during laceration repair in the pediatric ED.

Trial registration: NCT03475901.

Keywords: laceration repair; pediatric emergency medicine; procedural anxiety; virtual reality.

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Child
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Lacerations* / surgery
  • Pain, Procedural* / etiology
  • Pain, Procedural* / prevention & control
  • Pilot Projects
  • Virtual Reality*

Associated data