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Transforming paediatric hospital care: The benefits of virtual reality for children in medical treatment

Picture by Jessica Lewis /Unsplash

Picture by Jessica Lewis /Unsplash

Published Apr 24, 2023


VR technology can offer a safe and immersive experience that can help distract children from painful treatments and procedures, reduce anxiety, and enhance their overall hospital experience.

Research has demonstrated the efficacy of virtual reality in alleviating hospital-related stress and anxiety in children.

For example, a study published in the journal Healthcare demonstrated that VR reduced the stress levels of children undergoing venipuncture procedures. Similarly, research has also shown that VR can help reduce preoperative anxiety and pain related to intravenous catheterisation.

Reach for a Dream, in partnership with Vuma, is determined to help children have more positive in-hospital experiences through virtual reality. Through this initiative, “Dream Rooms” – a safe place where children can go during their long stays in the hospital to just be a child – are being kitted out with state-of-the-art virtual reality (VR) bundles.

How does VR help children?

VR can also promote education and offer insights to children about their medical treatment. For example, VR technology can display medical models, allowing children to learn more about the surgery or treatment they are undergoing, thereby increasing their understanding and overall engagement with their healthcare providers.

In addition, virtual reality offers children the opportunity to explore and interact with various environments, offering an alternative to the hospital setting. This alternative can be particularly beneficial for children with prolonged hospital stays, as it offers the children an escape and distraction from their medical treatment.

Dr Julia Ambers from Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital said: “The VR headset is an absolute game-changer for children in the outpatient clinic, where they have to have regular painful procedures; being transported into another world sometimes means they are not even aware of the pain or discomfort.”

Moreover, developers are now creating customised virtual reality experiences, which can be tailored to the children's specific interests and preferences, helping to reduce hospital-related anxiety and make their hospital experience more enjoyable.

Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital dream room. Picture supplied

One study published in the Journal of Paediatric Psychology found that children who used VR during a medical procedure reported less pain and anxiety compared to those who did not use VR.

There are currently 38 functioning Dream Rooms in paediatric wards across the country. In partnership with Vuma, we’ve also made this phenomenon accessible to the paediatric ward units at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. Reach for a Dream is aiming for 50 rooms in total.

Reach for a Dream is now able to equip the Dream Room at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal with a brand-new permanent VR bundle set that includes Vuma-sponsored headsets and a docking station.

The new equipment will allow even more children staying at the hospital to enjoy Dream Room and VR experiences at the same time, without having to wait their turn, said Ambers.

Virtual reality can positively contribute to transforming young children’s hospital experiences. By reducing preoperative anxiety, offering a safe and immersive escape, and promoting understanding of their healthcare experience, VR technology can help enhance children’s hospital experience and, in turn, facilitate a faster healing process.

With rapid advancements in virtual reality technology, it seems that it's only a matter of time before VR becomes the norm in paediatric hospitals worldwide.