Virtual Reality Therapy – An Alternative to Prescription Opioids

Remember when medical marijuana was touted as an alternative method of treatment instead of opioid use? Well, now there is another innovative way of treating people who are experiencing pain: virtual reality. Scientists have not stopped finding healthier ways of treating pain, and for good reason. In 2017, “an estimated 1.7 million people suffered from substance abuse disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers.”[1] In 2020, prescription opioid deaths numbered 16,416 people.[2] Many of these people were victims of a larger societal problem, an opioid crisis. The leniency with which it is prescribed and the inability to monitor, and if necessary, treat the individual after prescription opioid use has been unfortunate for many families.

Innovative Treatment

Medical marijuana has already been approved by workers’ compensation insurers, with many victims of workplace injury choosing it as a preferred method of treating pain. Reducing reliance on opioids has been a growing trend. Although VR has not made as many strides as medical marijuana in the workers’ compensation industry, it is on its way. Virtual reality therapy encompasses the individual in a space that provides for a safe environment. This is particularly useful for psychological disorders such as phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. The goal is to envelop the person in a “meditative or escapist experience.”[3] They may encounter their triggers in the virtual reality environment, but without the dread or angst that comes with encountering them in real life. In this simulated environment, they can be around their triggers, and interact with them, slowly conditioning themselves to a healthier mind.

With the occupation of virtual reality, people find themselves not paying attention to their pain as much as they used to. This is useful for people who suffer chronic or lingering pain. Without the focus on pain, prescription opioids become less necessary, because the individual is suffering less. The immersive full-body sensory experience truly does distract people from what is bothering them.

Exercising Control

VR therapy has shown promise in victims of catastrophic injury such as “spinal cord injuries, phantom limb pain after amputation, [and] severe pain after burns.”[4] Incorporating this treatment can help people improve their balance, motor skills and mobility. Video games have also been shown to keep patients interested and continue with their treatment.

VR headsets can be delivered to people’s homes, where they will have full access to how often they would like to engage in therapy. Usually, a healthcare provider will determine whether you are able to conduct home-based therapy. If workers are aware of the standards required to safely use a VR headset, they have more control over their condition. It’s availability to them, just like medical marijuana, makes people more comfortable with themselves.

Impact of Virtual Reality Therapy

What impact does this all have on people? For one, there will be people who will be anxious about trying a new form of therapy, but with all new things, there is a sense of apprehension. Injured workers are always looking for new ways to treat their pain. Pills and surgeries, the route people are most aware of, are no longer a be-all-end-all. The addition of these alternative treatments has struck a chord among people that have their reservations about traditional methods of treatment.

People are used to what they know – to continue in their comfort zone is something that is learned. That is why virtual reality is significant. For people who have conditions that prevent them from associating with certain things, there is promise. A person who has suffered burns from a fire might be unreasonably scared of fires. Yet, VR therapy can get that person acclimated to fire in a space that is safe. It’s about rewiring the brain. Tricking the mind into believing that something is okay is not a recipe for disaster when used appropriately. It can induce the individual to be more relaxed in cases where it should be. As a person’s perception changes, so does their condition.[5]

Biometric Data

In instances where patients will be monitored based on the progress of their treatment with virtual reality therapy, “biometrics can measure and adjust to how quickly patients are recovering.”[6] Biometric information includes “heart rate, respiration rate, pulse oximetry, and blood pressure,” all of which can complement the individual’s therapy.[7] The use of personal and characteristic information to adapt to the needs of the injured worker in VR therapy is essential. There is, however, a risk in gathering personal information.

The potential for identity theft grows larger as people’s information is stored on the internet. Cyber-attacks are and have been a growing threat for the workers’ compensation industry. Cyber-attackers can gain access to such information and use it to facilitate blackmail. Sensitive information about an injured worker’s status can be stored in hospitals, corporations, and third-party administrators. Protecting people’s information is important, which is why a lot of organizations will want to use cyber liability insurance for their needs.

Takeaway

If you think you can gain off virtual reality therapy, you may want to speak to your healthcare provider. Doctors and nurses won’t always touch off all the options available to you. To some degree, there is research that needs to be done by the individual on their own condition and available methods of treatment.

What is unique about VR therapy is that you may have fun doing it, something usually unfamiliar in the treatment space. Technology and medicine are constantly evolving, so if you have sustained an injury, you want to be on the lookout for things that may be beneficial to you. Although prescription opioids may be necessary for extreme pain, people can get as hooked on it as easily as they got injured.

In a country of personal responsibility, it is ultimately up to the individual to manage themselves. There will be people who work to make you better and care for you, such as doctors, family members, and friends. In the end, however, it is up to you to make the right decisions. This includes deciding what treatments to take, and to prioritize self-monitoring, or getting help when necessary. At a time when families are devastated due to losing loved ones due to prescription opioids, virtual reality is a breath of fresh air.

[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2022, June 3). Opioid Overdose Crisis. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis

[2] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2022, June 3). Overdose Death Rates. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates#:~:text=Drug%20overdose%20deaths%20involving%20prescription,increase%20to%2016%2C416%20in%202020.

[3] Childers, A. (2021, September 14). Medical Use of Virtual Reality Shows Promise. Business Insurance. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://www.businessinsurance.com/article/20210914/NEWS08/912344375/Medical-Use-of-Virtual-Reality-Shows-Promise

[4] One Call. (n.d.). Virtual Reality in Workers’ Comp. One Call. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://onecallcm.com/about/news-blog/virtual-reality-in-workers-comp/

[5] Childers, A. (2021, September 14). Medical Use of Virtual Reality Shows Promise. Business Insurance. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://www.businessinsurance.com/article/20210914/NEWS08/912344375/Medical-Use-of-Virtual-Reality-Shows-Promise

[6] One Call. (n.d.). Virtual Reality in Workers’ Comp. One Call. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://onecallcm.com/about/news-blog/virtual-reality-in-workers-comp/

[7] Valencell, Inc. (2020, November 19). The Future of Biometrics in Virtual Reality. Valencell. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://valencell.com/blog/the-future-of-biometrics-in-virtual-reality/#:~:text=Biometric%20technology%20compliments%20VR%20technology,treatments%20to%20new%20disease%20areas.

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