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The study found that dental patients who engaged in a virtual reality walk along Devon's Wembury Beach experienced less pain than those who were placed in a virtual city environment. (Images: University of Plymouth; wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)
0 Comments Jun 26, 2017 | News UK & Ireland

Study shows virtual reality improves patient satisfaction

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DEVON, UK: Though the use of virtual reality (VR) in dentistry is steadily growing, variation in its efficacy due to differing VR environments has rarely been measured. A new study conducted by a team from the universities of Plymouth, Exeter and Birmingham—in conjunction with Torrington Dental Practice in Devon—has found that dental patients enjoy an overall better experience when engaged in a VR walk in a coastal area than in a city.

Patients who agreed to the study were randomly assigned to three separate situations: conventionally performed procedures without VR, a walk around a virtual, but anonymous, city or a walk along the coastline of Devon’s Wembury Beach. Patients chosen for the last two groups were provided with a headset and handheld controls.

The study found that the group who virtually walked along the coastline experienced the least amount of pain and recollected their treatment as such. These findings were not evident in the group who engaged with the cityscape VR.

“The use of virtual reality in health care settings is on the rise but we need more rigorous evidence of whether it actually improves patient experiences,” said Dr Karin Tanja-Dijkstra, lead author of the study.

“Our research demonstrates that under the right conditions, this technology can be used to help both patients and practitioners.”

The study authors emphasised that the VR environment patients engage with is crucial to reducing their pain and anxiety when visiting the dentist. “That walking around the virtual city did not improve outcomes shows that merely distracting the patients isn’t enough; the environment for a patient’s visit needs to be welcoming and relaxing,” said Dr Sabine Pahl, coordinator of the study at Plymouth University.

“It would be interesting to apply this approach to other contexts in which people cannot easily access real nature such as the workplace or other healthcare situations.”

The study, titled “The soothing sea: A virtual coastal walk can reduce experienced and recollected pain”, was published online on 14 June in the Environment and Behavior journal.

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