How Virtual Reality Could Help Reduce Sharps Injuries in Children

November 01, 2016

Needles can be scary to young children, with the prospect of an injection often causing them to wriggle and squirm, consequently making the risk of an accidental sharps injury more likely.

With this risk in mind, doctors based at the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio have been exploring how virtual reality could potentially reduce the likelihood of sharps injuries among anxious children.

As the mother of a child with a medical condition requiring regular injections, Dr Gabby Bowman knew that her son was putting himself at increased risk of a needlestick due to his nerves, meaning the chance of his bloodstream being exposed to life-threatening infections would also be heightened. Therefore, she set out to find effective methods to keep him distracted from the procedure while keeping his body as still as possible in order to reduce the risk of sharps injury.

Along with her colleague Dr Amy Dunn and a team of specialist video game designers at the Nationwide Children's Hospital, Dr Bowman spearheaded the development of a new virtual reality game that proves a successful distraction, but requires minimal movement to operate.

The game is controlled via brief glances and slight movements of the head, meaning it keeps users' hands and arms free hso they can be safely injected while they are distracted. Puffs of breath can also activate different functions of the virtual reality game, making it a highly engaging and innovative distraction concept, but one that keeps the risk of sharps injury due to anxiety at a minimum.

Following a trial of the game in a vaccination setting, Dr Dunn explained: "It worked very well in this case, because not only was it a hands-free way to control the game, but, in addition, the quality of breathing in and out deeply relaxes you."

A nurse was present in the room while the patient was playing the game to provide extra reassurance in case the child did become distressed, but also to help control the virtual reality experience with real-time support where needed.

Dr Dunn continued: "The headsets are cardboard, so they're light and disposable. Also, because the games run on smartphones, they're wireless."

This means the game would not add any additional hazards to a medical environment, instead making it safer by easing the child's anxiety and making them less likely to cause a fuss, thus reducing the risk of a dangerous sharps injury occurring.