Virtual reality is many things to many people, but could it be an effective replacement for pain medication? Well, according to the emergency room of St Joseph’s Hospital in France, the use of VR is effective at relaxing patients without resorting to drugs. In fact, some patients even showed sign of an increase in their tolerance of pain.

It’s not hard to believe that users could be sufficiently distracted to ensure they stop noticing their pain as much, but VR is likely to be more effective on some people than others. Thankfully the use of VR won’t be replacing major treatments, such as surgeries, and drugs will still be used in those cases. For minor treatments, however, VR is proving effective.

“What we offer is a contemplative world where the patient goes on a guided tour, in interactive mode, to play music, do a bit of painting or work out a riddle,” says Reda Khouadra, one of the 24-year-olds behind the project.

Patients adorning the VR goggles can be transported to Japanese zen gardens or snowy hillsides, while doctors perform treatments such as putting stitches in a cut, inserting a urinary catheter, or putting a dislocated shoulder back into place. Burn patients could also find VR effective.

“The virtual reality project enables us to offer patients a technique to distract their attention and curb their pain and anxiety when being treated in the emergency room,” adds Olivier Ganansia, head of the emergency department at the Saint-Joseph Hospital in Paris.

“I think in 10 years, virtual reality won’t even be a question any more, and will be used in hospitals routinely.”

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