Preoperative anxiety in children is highly prevalent and is associated with adverse outcomes. Existing psychosocial interventions to reduce preoperative anxiety are often aimed at distraction and are of limited efficacy. Gradual exposure is a far more effective way to reduce anxiety. Virtual reality (VR) provides a unique opportunity to gradually expose children to all aspects of the operating theater.
The aims of our study are (1) to develop a virtual reality exposure (VRE) tool to prepare children psychologically for surgery; and (2) to examine the efficacy of the VRE tool in a randomized controlled trial (RCT), in which VRE will be compared to care as usual (CAU).
The VRE tool is highly realistic and resembles the operating room environment accurately. With this tool, children will not only be able to explore the operating room environment, but also get accustomed to general anesthesia procedures. The PREoperative Virtual reality Intervention to Enhance Wellbeing (PREVIEW) study will be conducted. In this single-blinded RCT, 200 consecutive patients (aged 4 to 12 years) undergoing elective day care surgery for dental, oral, or ear-nose-throat problems, will be randomly allocated to the preoperative VRE intervention or CAU. The primary outcome is change in child state anxiety level between baseline and induction of anesthesia. Secondary outcome measures include child’s postoperative anxiety, emergence delirium, postoperative pain, use of analgesics, health care use, and pre- and postoperative parental anxiety.
The VRE tool has been developed. Participant recruitment began March 2017 and is expected to be completed by September 2018.
To our knowledge, this is the first RCT evaluating the effect of a VRE tool to prepare children for surgery. The VRE intervention is expected to significantly diminish preoperative anxiety, postoperative pain, and the use of postoperative analgesics in pediatric patients. The tool could create a less stressful experience for both children and their parents, in line with the modern emphasis on patient- and family-centered care.