Video games, virtual reality (VR) and other forms of technology are becoming more prevalent in society today, even in the health care setting. Children and teens often connect to peers through video games, video chats and other forms of technology. And health systems are finding innovative ways to incorporate VR into care plans. Katie Foley, Child Life Specialist at Children's Health℠, says that for many children, VR helps lessen feelings of isolation by promoting social connection and a sense of teamwork – it also offers a valuable tool to help ease fears.
How are technology and VR used in treating children?
"At Children's Health, we use a variety of types of technology, such as VR, to support patients and their families," says Foley. The Child Life Specialists use iPads, video game systems and VR to normalize the hospital environment and prepare children for what they will experience while at the hospital.
Technology can be used to build a coping plan for children and teens – from new medical treatments to procedures and other goals of the child's care team. "For example, we use VR to support patients during PICC lines (peripherally inserted central catheter), port accesses and IV placements." The technology allows patients to ‘explore' new places and be fully immersed in an activity, while undergoing medical care.
How do children benefit from VR in health care?
"Using technology in a health care setting helps empower patients to feel in control during stressful and new experiences," says Foley. Technology has gained a lot of attention in recent years for enhancing children's health care experiences. It is used to distract children from the sometimes-unpleasant aspects of a medical procedure and help reduce their stress. It can also be used interactively, providing education about conditions and treatments and, in turn, improving engagement in their care. Below are some of the top ways VR helps kids cope:
- Better pain management and reduced anxiety. When paired with developmentally appropriate preparation for procedures, VR can help with pain management and decrease feelings of anxiety. VR allows the child to fully immerse in another activity, like swimming with dolphins, going on a safari or playing different games.
- Increased activity level and meeting care goals. VR and video games like Beat Saber can help children become more active and reach care goals in a fun way. VR can also be adapted to support children of varying abilities, including physical limitations due to illness or injury.
- Reduced need for sedation and more successful imaging tests. VR is a tool that simulates what children will experience during different procedures, such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. Allowing children to use VR to practice for an MRI scan helps empower children to know what to expect – ultimately leading to more successful scans and reduced need for sedation for many children.
Can video gaming help children develop social skills?
Yes – video gaming can be a helpful social tool. As a parent or caregiver, you might be concerned about your child spending too much time playing video games. However, VR can help kids:
- Build teamwork and leadership skills
- Develop meaningful social skills while connecting with others
- Form bonds with peers
- Make friends if they struggle in a traditional setting
- Reduce social anxiety
While gaming does offer many benefits, parents should encourage healthy gaming behaviors. Many gaming platforms make it easy for kids to become immersed for long periods, leading to unhealthy behaviors such as poor sleep and reduced physical activity.
It's also important to ensure your child plays age-appropriate games and gaming doesn't become problematic. Parents should be aware of changes in their child's behaviors and emotions and whether they have any symptoms of compulsive and addictive disorders.
What type of VR does Children's Health offer kids?
Another form of technology the team at Children's Health uses is video game consoles. These are especially helpful for children on isolation precautions or those who can't leave their rooms during admission.
There are also multiple playrooms, including the Child Life Zone, where children and teens can play video games with other children in the hospital. Multiplayer games give children a chance to collaborate with others and learn to communicate with their peers. "It's not uncommon to see patients make friendships through Mario Kart tournaments, Minecraft adventures and playing LEGO superheroes together in our play spaces," says Foley.
"Being able to offer these experiences helps to normalize the hospital environment and provide children with a chance to be a kid and play with peers."
Read more about the services Child Life Specialists at Children's Health offer kids and families.
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