OU blog

Personal Blogs

Will in Wales

Can the use of Virtual Reality simulated hospital visits reduce anxiety for patients entering a hospital environment?

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by William Bladon, Friday, 17 Jan 2020, 15:16

Abstract & Conference Poster

Poster Link - 
        (PDF document309.3 KB)

This presentation will focus on some common problems[1] that are faced by users of healthcare services in terms of the anxiety they feel prior to visiting a hospital site for an appointment or clinical intervention. This will be examined in terms of how virtual reality technology can be used to provide patients the opportunity to ‘see’, ‘experience’ and ‘interact’ with an environment virtually, prior to them encountering it in reality. The benefit of this is that some of the anxiety faced visiting a location for the first time can be alleviated by ‘visiting’ it virtually beforehand. This experience could be used to familiarise the patient with the environment, provide useful information and tips (for example where to park), and the ability to ‘meet the team’ through virtual introductions to key members of staff.

Virtual reality is not a new phenomenon in healthcare having been used for both training purposes and anxiety relief for a number of years. ‘Distracting’ patients using VR to relieve pain has a good evidence base, and can even ‘lower the risk of complications, improve recovery time and reduce costs’ (Marchant, 2017). However, the use of virtual reality technology to prepare a patient for a hospital visit is not commonly practiced, despite evidence related to the impact of anxiety associated with engaging with healthcare services – from finding a parking space (known as ‘travel anxiety’ (Ahn et al., 2013) and locating the appointment area, to feelings of fear when entering surgical areas. There is growing evidence to support  ‘a statistically significant improvement in patient satisfaction’ (Maurice-Szamburski, 2018) for patients who have undergone VR experiences as opposed to standard patient information provided preoperatively. Therefore the presentation and resulting project are an important step forward into looking at the benefits VR could bring to improve a patient’s journey and recovery during a potentially traumatic time.

There are factors that have to also be considered that can have a negative impact on these experiences, for example the experience and expectations that a VR simulation can deliver need to be adequately matched to the ‘real’ experience a patient will face, otherwise this can lead to negative outcomes, also there is some evidence that knowledge can increase emotional distress due to seeing instruments, or that some people may ‘cope by avoiding information’(Tourigny and Chartrand, 2009), as such making information available through VR could have the opposite effect intended by increasing anxiety.

This conference presentation will examine how this technology can be used to deliver improvements for healthcare service users, and will examine this in terms of the options and evidence behind using this technology. The format will be a paper which is intended to be used as a case study and strategy document for those wishing to implement this type of technology to improve patient outcomes and experiences.

Conference Website - http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/OU-H818/

[1] 60% - 80% of surgical patients are reported to be affected by substantial preoperative anxiety (Jlala et al., 2010)


Ahn, J.-C., Cho, S.-P. and Jeong, S.-K. (2013) ‘Virtual reality to help relieve travel anxiety’, KSII Transactions on Internet and Information Systems, vol. 7, p. 1433+ [Online]. Available at https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A342178249/AONE?u=tou&sid=AONE&xid=36acc91d.

Jlala, H., French, J., Foxall, G., Hardman, J. and Bedforth, N. (2010) ‘Effect of preoperative multimedia information on perioperative anxiety in patients undergoing procedures under regional anaesthesia’, British journal of anaesthesia, vol. 104, pp. 369–374 [Online]. DOI: 10.1093/bja/aeq002.

Marchant, J. (2017) ‘Virtual Reality Can Make the Pain of Surgery Easier to Bear’, The Atlantic [Online]. Available at https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/01/virtual-reality-pain/515103/.

Maurice-Szamburski, A. (2018) ‘Preoperative virtual reality experience may improve patient satisfaction and reduce anxiety’, Evidence Based Nursing, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 14 LP – 14 [Online]. DOI: 10.1136/eb-2017-102780.

Tourigny, J. and Chartrand, J. (2009) ‘[Evaluation of a preoperative virtual tour for parents and children]’, Recherche en soins infirmiers, pp. 52–57.

Share post


Simon Ball

Questions from the conference

Hi Will

Here are the questions and comments from your conference presentation - please respond in whatever way you wish!

Best wishes

  • Costs can be overcome if economy allows it.
  • Equipment cost is always minmal compared to training costs.
  • And internet access costs for users
  • This is probably my lack of knowledge around VR but do scenarios/experiences cretaed have to be used by a sepcific device or can they be used by any VR device?
  • We often ignore the invisible costs involved with the process like the devices,net connections etc. They are not cheap either! 
  • Never thought of it for patients - interesting use - for terminal/long stay patients this could be something really positive. For children too
  • what a lovely example and team of staff doing something so good for a patient
  • How *real* does VR feel nowadays? (Are we far from the Star Trek holodeck?!)
  • How would you overcome VR effects - e.g nausea?
  • As a nurse I can see the value of this
  • I hadn't thought of VR in medical use beyond simulation for training purposes, so it is really good to see other ways it can be used.
  • When patients view videos, do they wear headsets? Or is it a video created using VR but watched in 2d/3d?
  • I can also see the potential for preparing people / children for court  
  • Simulation and icreasingly VR are used across emergency services in risk free environments