The standard method of obtaining blood samples requires a needle and a syringe. While most adults can endure the formidability of the procedure, children may experience anxiety due to the fear of pain with needles. In line with this, a game developer in Denmark developed a virtual reality game designed to distract children who are afraid of needles.
Virtual Reality Game Takes Off Needle Fear from Children
Many people hesitate to take vaccines because of their fear of needles. The anxiety caused by that fear comes in all ages, from young children to adults, and the reasons are a hundredfold. Some feel uncomfortable when seeing or feeling a needle pricking their skin, while others are scared of the pain they are about to experience.
However, some individuals experience intense fear that often leads to severe anxiety. An episode of severe anxiety can cause rapid breathing, elevated heart rate, and uncontrolled shakes or tremors. And those who experience such episodes tend to refuse vaccinations. This kind of problem is also faced by clinicians when obtaining blood samples from their patients.
It is this extreme dread that became the impetus for Khora, a virtual reality game developer, to create a VR game that can help distract children who are scared of needles. The game is called Ballade på Badebroen or Trouble on the Jetty, wherein the player simply needs to shoot water balloons, using a slingshot, at seagulls that are stealing their fish.
Compared to other VR games, Khora’s game is specifically designed for hospital settings. Instead of using headphones and closed-door immersive experience, the game’s audio is played out loud. It allows the clinicians, nurses, and caregivers to hear what is happening inside the game. It also allows them to interact with the child and vice versa, so that the communication between parties remains intact. The child can control the game with only one hand, while the other hand rests calmly for the nurse to use for a blood sample or intravenous administration.
"The game has also been adjusted to hospital situations. For example, none of the action in the game goes on behind the child. This prevents the child from fidgeting or turning to look backwards. We've incorporated elements such as starfish on the screen edges and ships sailing past, so there's something to talk about with the child during a procedure,” explained Thomas Saaby Noer, Head of Healthcare at Khora.
The extra elements available in the game can also be used in conversations between parties, in case the child does not want to play. Also, the game does not consist of any elements that can scare the child, which prevents the feeling of nausea during the procedure.
"We've already tested the game on several children, and they've all been excited about the game and the method. Some of the children are already looking forward to their next hospital visit and to playing the game again," said Soren Walther Larsen, facilitator of the project from the Pediatric Pain Knowledge Center at Rigshospitalet.
The positive results from testing were due to the three important conditions – conversational topic, distraction, and entertainment – which were targeted by game. These conditions prevented the child from feeling bored, irate or anxious in the hospital. And the interaction between parties enabled the child to be distracted further, up to the point they would not feel that the procedure has been completed.
Although the VR game is designed for children between 5 and 12 years of age, some children who are already 14 years old wanted to try it. The game is currently in use at the Pediatric Pain Knowledge Center, where the staff is pleased with the solution. The developers are planning to conduct a study in two different groups to determine if the game is better or worse or the same when compared to other methods of distraction.
Other VR Techs Used to Distract Children in Hospitals
Virtual reality has been proven to significantly reduce stress levels among children. According to Veronica Tuss, a child life specialist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, the tech often puts a child into an engaging and very distracting activity.
In 2015, the co-founders of Packard Children’s Childhood Anxiety Reduction through Innovation and Technology, Dr. Sam Rodriguez and Dr. Thomas Caruso, led the release of the Bedside Entertainment and Relaxation Theater. The BERT system can project videos on a large screen attached to the patient’s gurneys. It distracts the patients from worries by capturing their attention with movies and music videos while traveling to the operating room.
In 2017, CHARIOT launched Sevo the Dragon, an interactive video game compatible with the BERT screen. The video game distracts the patient while the anesthesia is administered through a breathing mask.
The co-founders of CHARIOT also launched the Spaceburgers game with the help of Juno VR. The game allows children to relax by listening to music as they fly in space while zapping objects.
"Now, when patients get a shot while they are wearing VR goggles, they are reporting only limited levels of pain, if any," Dr. Caruso said.
[메디컬리포트=Ralph Chen 기자]