Virtual Reality and Medical Inpatients: A Review of the Evidence

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There is a tremendous amount of interest in using virtual reality to alleviate pain and suffering among hospitalized patients. Recently, we evaluated the evidence supporting the use of VR among patients in acute inpatient medical settings. We conducted a systematic review of randomized controlled trials that examined VR applications in inpatient medical settings.

Through a comprehensive search, we identified 2,024 citations, among which 11 met criteria for inclusion. Studies in the literature addressed three general areas: pain management, eating disorders, and cognitive and motor rehabilitation. Studies were small and heterogeneous and utilized different designs and measures. VR was generally well tolerated by patients in these studies, and a majority of studies demonstrated clinical efficacy. Studies varied greatly in methodological quality.

From our review, we conclude that VR is a promising intervention with several potential applications in the inpatient medical setting. Studies to date demonstrate some efficacy, but there is a need for larger, well-controlled studies to show clinical and cost-effectiveness. The methodological quality of the existing literature is not uniform, emphasizing the importance of conducing more high quality VR clinical trials.

February 1, 2017