In recent months, with the opioid crisis on the rise, virtual reality has emerged as a potential drug-free tool for pain management. In a partnership that connects giants from nearly every aspect of the healthcare industry, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Samsung, Travelers Insurance, Bayer and AppliedVR have teamed up in a new 16-month study to evaluate VR for pain reduction and therapeutic purposes.
Cedars-Sinai’s Center for Outcomes Research and Education and Department of Orthopaedic Surgery will use technology from Samsung, Bayer and AppliedVR as a supplement to manage pain in patients with acute orthopedic injuries of the lower back and extremities. Travelers and Samsung will fund the study.
“The opioid crisis doesn’t just cost money, it also costs lives,” said Dr. Brennan Spiegel, director of health services research at Cedars-Sinai, in a press release. “We need to find ways to stem the tide without relying entirely on medicines. Health technology, like virtual reality, has tremendous potential to improve outcomes while saving costs, which is why we’re so excited about this collaboration among academia and industry.”
Many of the healthcare giants have already been working together to evaluate VR’s use in pain management. In a recent study by Cedars-Sinai, researchers provided patients with Samsung Gear Oculus VR headsets that featured 3D nature videos and compared pain scores for those patients to those who simply watched nature videos on a bedside TV. The study found that the “use of VR in hospitalized patients significantly reduces pain versus a control distraction condition.”
Samsung also recently completed a study of its own that proved that VR can “decrease pain by 52 percent,” Samsung Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Rhew told MobiHealthNews.
The new study, which will recruit between 90 and 140 participants, will follow up on these efforts, with a focus on improving outcomes for injured workers.
Workplace Injuries Take Center Stage for VR
What makes the project unique from previous studies, however, is that it will look specifically at how pain management applies to the economic environment associated with worker’s compensation.
“Workplace injuries that lead to chronic pain can cause ongoing issues, as an injured employee may mask pain with opioids or other drugs,” said Dr. Melissa Burke, national pharmacy director at Travelers, in the press release. “Identifying new, non-pharmacologic alternatives for pain management can help an injured employee avoid chronic pain, lower the chances that they will develop a dangerous opioid addiction and reduce medical costs.”
Patients in the 16-month study will receive a “digital pain-reduction kit” that will provide VR and wearable technology and explore its effectiveness in managing pain associated with lower back and extremity orthopedic injuries. The kit will include a Samsung Gear VR headset that connects a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) device from Bayer and a Samsung Gear Fit2 wearable fitness tracker.
While the trial has a rather narrow focus, Rhew believes it opens the doors to future nonpharmacological pain management strategies.
“I think one of the most remarkable things about virtual reality is we have always thought of this as a great entertainment and distraction tool,” Rhew said during a panel presentation at HIMSS 2018, MobiHealthNews reports. “What we haven’t really thought of it as is a therapeutic tool. And specifically being used to treat conditions such as pain, stress, anxiety, blindness, post-traumatic stress disorder, stroke, spinal cord injury. There’s a lot of research now which is being brought to life and enabled by technologies from Samsung.”