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Visiting a hospital can be a daunting experience for young patients. As a result, some appointments are delayed or missed, which results in less treatment availability and low healthcare efficiency. Traditionally, there are some ways to help children ease fear at the hospital, including preparing children before the visit, offering distractions, offering a small treat afterward to create a positive association with the experience, etc. 

Recently, PixelMax leverages virtual reality and tries to offer innovation to help solve the fear at the hospital. They partner with Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and build a digital twin, a virtual replica of the hospital’s radiology department, to help young patients feel more comfortable. In the virtual world, children are tasked with collecting glowing keycards scattered across the environment. With this mechanic, children can explore the hospital actively. Along the way, they can also interact with medical equipment like X-Ray machines and magnetic resonance imaging scanners and familiarize themselves with the equipment’s sound, appearance, and working mechanisms. By completing the tasks, they could earn badges. According to Shannon Taut, M.D., a pediatrician at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, “The biggest fear is often the fear of the unknown. Anything that makes the interaction feel more familiar is helpful.” Therefore, it is expected that such an edutainment experience can be beneficial in reducing the children’s fear.

Besides PixelMax, other institutions and companies are also dedicating their effort to improving the healthcare experience with virtual reality. For example, the Maternity hospital in Spain has started applying virtual reality technology to help kids with extreme needle anxiety during the injection and blood extraction process. When children enter the virtual world, they will be distracted from the ongoing medical treatment and thus experience less pain. Silver, a virtual reality software, creates a two-minute animation story delivered via an immersive headset to help alleviate needle anxiety during vaccination. A pilot study showed that the VR animation could significantly reduce the anxiety score, though no significant differences in the pain scores were found. 

With so many efforts and innovations in healthcare areas, it is promising that virtual reality can be a powerful tool to offer better alternatives than traditional methods to improve the healthcare experience.

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