Exploring the use of Virtual Reality to manage distress in adolescent patients in the Emergency Departments


  • Brad Ridout University of Sydney
  • Elham Zolfaghari The Children's Hospital at Westmead
  • Sharon Medlow University of Sydney
  • Andrew Campbell University of Sydney
  • Andrew Coggins The Children's Hospital at Westmead
  • Kate Steinbeck University of Sydney


Background: Adolescents are more likely than others to use emergency departments and find them distressing due to long waits, loud sounds, bright lights, privacy intrusions, and exposure to the distress of others. VR could be effective in not only dealing with pain while in emergency, but also blocking out distressing stimuli for a calming experience that could assist them in regulating their emotions.

Aims: To explore the potential benefits of deploying VR for adolescents in the emergency department.

Methods: Twenty-six participants who had voluntarily attended the ED in two university teaching hospitals received the VR intervention. Pre and post measures assessing changes in state anxiety, stress and affect, and physical bio-markers, were obtained.

Results: The use of VR intervention was associated with significant reductions in distress (SSSQ-D; p<0.001) and negative affect (I-PANAS-SF; p<0.001). Most participants chose ‘Netflix’ as their content of choice. The technology was well received by the participants of the study with subjective reports indicating that receiving VR intervention was “insanely cool”, “takes you away from what’s actually happening”, and some participants felt “privileged to get this experience in a hospital.”

Conclusions: VR technology can effectively be used in emergency departments to assist adolescents and young adults better manage their distress and take steps toward activating more self-control mechanisms that will in turn allow for more meaningful engagements to be established with health clinicians. This technology has broad implications for reducing distress in adolescents in a variety of clinical contexts.





Oral Presentations