A virtual happy place hoped to help a needle-fearing patient with a jab

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A virtual happy place hoped to help a needle-fearing patient with a jab


A research project is investigating whether virtual reality can help reduce stress in people with needle phobia.

Seeing patients faint from fear of a needle prick prompted Craig Gilbertson, a registered nurse and now a master’s student at La Trobe University, to consider “a better way.” rice field.

He is working with Albury Wodonga Health to lead a feasibility study on using virtual reality headsets to distract people with needle phobia.

He said needle phobia may cause some patients to avoid hospitals and doctors altogether.

He also said it takes time and resources to deal with needle reactions such as fainting, which can put some patients at risk for complications.

His goal, he said, is to completely prevent a needle reaction without drugs.

A woman with curly blonde hair and wide-brimmed reading glasses smiles at the camera in front of a red brick wall
Anna Griffith says she enjoys seeing research projects that could benefit the community.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Anna Chisholm)

Albury-Wodonga Health Library and Research Office Manager Anna Griffiths said it was exciting to do local projects, especially nurse-led research projects.

“Given the impact on professionals, not just patients…in terms of reducing the burden on the workforce, I think it’s really something to celebrate,” Griffiths said.

For first-time adults

Gilbertson said virtual reality technology has already proven successful for children, but he also wants to “try it” on adults.

He said he could find no evidence of similar studies in adults.

A man in a blue polo shirt with the Albury-Wodonga Health logo on his right chest in front of greenery smiling at the camera
Craig Gilbertson is still recruiting participants for his research.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Anna Chisholm)

The weight of the headset is approximately 400 grams.

Gilbertson said he was “very comfortable” having road-tested the idea with his own daughter, who has developed an aversion to needles.

Participants choose from immersive scenarios, including natural landscapes such as beaches and lagoons, while wearing headsets and touching needles.

“One said it reminded me of being in the Northern Territory and looked so real that I half thought there was an alligator in the water behind me,” Gilbertson said.

Patients can still listen, but instead of talking about what’s going on around them, relaxing music can be played in the scenario.

Possibilities for future research

Gilbertson said he hopes the study will lead to further studies in adults.

From there, he said he hopes appropriate protocols will be developed so that virtual reality can be used more broadly in various medical services.

Gilbertson said the project is ongoing and requires volunteers over the age of 18 with needle phobia and has been referred to Albury Wodonga Health.

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