Imagine walking along a beach on a lovely day listening to the waves lapping and the birds calling. Then, as you turn to continue along the coast path feeling calm and relaxed you suddenly hear your dentist say: “Fine, all done, you can take the headset off now”.
For patients at one dental practice in Devon, England, such virtual reality encounters are resulting in demonstrably better experiences in the dentist’s chair.
In a study published in the journal Environment & Behaviour, a team of researchers at the Universities of Plymouth, Exeter and Birmingham worked with Torrington Dental Practice in Devon to find out whether experiences like these could improve patients’ experience during routine dental procedures, such as fillings and tooth extractions.
Patients who had agreed to take part in the study were randomly allocated to one of three conditions: a) standard care (i.e., normal practice); b) a virtual walk around a beach (using a headset and handheld controller); or, c) a walk around an anonymous virtual reality city. Results found that those who ‘walked’ around the beach were less anxious, experienced less pain, and had more positive recollections of their treatment a week later, than those in the standard care condition. These benefits were not found for those who walked around the virtual city.
Dr Karin Tanja-Dijkstra, lead author of the study, said: “The use of virtual reality in healthcare settings is on the rise but we need more rigorous evidence of whether it actually improves patient experiences. Our research demonstrates that under the right conditions, this technology can be used to help both patients and practitioners”.