Objective: To report the first randomized controlled trial to investigate if immersive virtual reality (VR) treatment can reduce patient perceptions of anxiety compared with a tablet-based control treatment in adults undergoing a first-time sternotomy. Methods: Twenty first-time sternotomy patients were prospectively randomized (blinded to investigator) to a control or VR intervention. The VR intervention was a game module “Bear Blast” (AppliedVR) displayed using a Samsung Gear Oculus VR headset. The control intervention was a tablet-based game with comparable audio, visual, and tactile components. The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory was administered before and after the assigned intervention. Self-reported anxiety measures between the control and VR groups were evaluated using an unpaired t test. Changes in self-reported anxiety measures pre- and post-intervention were evaluated with a paired t test for both the control and VR groups. The study took place from May 1, 2017, through January 1, 2019 (Institutional Review Board 16-009784). Results: Both control and VR groups were 90.0% male, with a mean ± SD age of 63.4 ± 9.11 and 69.5 ± 6.9 years, respectively. VR users experienced significant reductions in feeling tense and strained, and significant improvements in feeling calm when compared with tablet controls (P<0.05). They also experienced significant reductions in feeling strained, upset, and tense when compared with their own self-reported anxiety measure pre- and post-intervention (P<0.05). Critically, control patients had no change in these categories. Conclusion: Immersive VR is an effective, nonpharmacologic approach to reducing preoperative anxiety in adults undergoing cardiac surgery and shows the validity and utility of this technology in adult patients.
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