Virtual reality (VR) opens up so many opportunities, giving users the ability to do everything from swimming in the ocean to flying through outer space with ease. The technology’s fun options are endless—but how does it fit into childbirth?
VR magnifies the mind-body connection, and we know the mind can be very influential in healing and how pain is perceived.
Dr. Melissa Wong, who is fellow in the Maternal-Fetal Medicine program and pursuing a master’s degree in Health Delivery Science at Cedars-Sinai, is working with principal investigator Dr. Kimberly Gregory to see how VR could help pregnant women during labor. Dr. Wong gave us a peek inside the study they’re working on.
Q: What are you studying?
Dr. Wong: We’re studying the use of virtual reality for helping patients cope with contractions during labor. Women will be given a chance to put on VR goggles for 30 minutes and choose to watch a VR scenario of their choice. We will ask the women to rate their pain before and after wearing the VR goggles.
Q: Why are you studying this?
Dr. Wong: VR, artificial intelligence, robots, and digital technology are creeping into everything we do in life. It only makes sense that it would also evolve into healthcare. Rather than let it creep in, we wanted to study it.
We frequently ask patients to think of something calming or relaxing or a fun place to go “in their minds” when they are uncomfortable. VR makes that imaginary time more real. It’s like self-hypnosis or guided meditation on steroids. In essence, VR magnifies the mind-body connection, and we know the mind can be very influential in healing and how pain is perceived.
Q: What are you hoping to achieve or what are your ideal results?
Dr. Wong: Virtual reality has been found to be a useful tool in helping reduce both acute and chronic pain in other settings. We are hoping to see that women who use the VR goggles are satisfied with the experience, and feel that they are better able to cope with their labor pains.
Q: Why should this matter to patients?
Dr. Wong: This may be especially relevant for women who want a physiologic or “natural” birth (for example, they are hoping to avoid narcotics or epidurals). If VR provides a useful distraction for women in labor, it could provide an alternative coping mechanism, enabling women to have the birth experience they desire.