Immersive virtual reality: a transformative tool for patients with chronic disease

According to a recent analysis published in BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care, immersive virtual reality (VR) has emerged as a powerful tool for reducing pain and discomfort in cancer patients. This groundbreaking technology holds promise not only in cancer care, but also in the management of other chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis, kidney disease and dementia, as highlighted by the findings.

As the costs of virtual reality technology decrease, there is growing interest in its potential to enhance patients’ quality of life. However, the effectiveness of VR in helping people cope with the medical and psychological challenges of long-term conditions remains unclear. To address this gap, researchers conducted an extensive review of 31 studies spanning three decades.

These studies included various chronic diseases, including cancer, dementia, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The average age of the participants was 51 years, most of them were women. VR sessions last an average of 20 minutes, with a wide range of applications and frequency of use.

The results showed that immersive VR interventions were well received by patients and significantly helped to improve coping mechanisms with medical treatments and emotional well-being. Diverse types of VR environments and interventions yielded comparable results, suggesting no salient differentiating factors among them. However, the researchers cautioned that many of the included studies were feasibility or pilot studies with limited sample sizes and potential biases.

The mechanism through which immersive virtual reality affects patients’ physical and psychological experiences is unclear. It is hypothesized that the immersive nature of virtual reality may distract or alter the user’s state of mind, reducing pain perception and increasing their ability to manage the effects of their condition.

The potential of VR interventions as non-pharmacological treatments is significant, especially for those at risk of polypharmacy, offering an alternative that is well-received by clinicians, caregivers, and patients themselves. As VR technology becomes more accessible, it may become a cost-effective option compared to traditional pharmacological and non-pharmacological approaches.

However, further research is necessary to determine the optimal types of VR interventions and their long-term effects. Nevertheless, the findings make an undeniable case for immersive virtual reality as a valuable tool in improving the physical and psychological outcomes of chronic diseases. In particular, it has shown an undeniable effect in reducing pain and discomfort in people, especially those with cancer.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: What is Virtual Reality (VR)?
Answer: Immersive virtual reality (VR) is a technology that creates a simulated environment that users can interact with and become fully immersed in. It usually involves wearing a VR headset and using controllers or other input devices to navigate and interact with the virtual environment.

Q: What chronic conditions can VR help manage?
Answer: Immersive virtual reality holds promise in the management of chronic diseases such as cancer, MS, kidney disease and dementia, among others.

Q: What were the key findings of the analysis?
A: The analysis showed that immersive VR interventions were well received by patients and significantly helped to improve their coping mechanisms for medical treatments and emotional well-being. Different types of VR environments and interventions yielded similar results.

Q: How long do VR sessions usually last?
A: The average VR session in the reviewed studies lasted 20 minutes, but the actual duration can vary depending on the study and individual needs.

Q: What are the potential benefits of VR interventions?
A: VR interventions can provide non-pharmacological treatments and serve as a cost-effective alternative to traditional approaches. They are well regarded by doctors, caregivers and patients themselves and can reduce pain and discomfort in people with chronic illness.


– Immersive Virtual Reality (VR): A technology that creates a simulated environment in which users can interact and become fully immersed, usually using a VR headset and controllers.
– Chronic conditions: long-term medical conditions that require ongoing management and care, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, kidney disease, and dementia.
– Coping Mechanisms: Strategies or techniques that people use to manage the challenges and effects of their circumstances.
– Feasibility or pilot studies: studies that are conducted to determine the feasibility of a research project or to collect preliminary data before conducting larger studies.

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