Background : Stress among residents is a topic of increasing concern in graduate medical education as it has been shown to impair optimal healthcare delivery. The immersive experiences provided by Virtual Reality (VR) represent an exciting nascent modality for diversion, but also show promise in mindfulness-based stress reduction, treatment of anxiety disorders, and acute stress reduction. However, the use of VR for acute stress reduction in busy healthcare professionals has not been well studied.
Objective : Does a five-minute immersive VR intervention (using the $199 Oculus Go headset) aimed at stress reduction produce a significant reduction in the stress levels of emergency medicine residents as outlined by a well-validated stress and anxiety survey before and after the experience? Are there adverse effects associated with the use of immersive VR headsets?
Methods : Twelve Emergency Medicine residents at University of Missouri - Columbia completed a well-validated 6-question State-Anxiety Survey used to assess acute stress. Possible scores range from 6 to 24 with clinically significant stress defined as 12 or higher. They then sat in a beach chair, feet in sand, Oculus Go headset on, and were shown an ocean beach scene. A space heater fan blew warm ocean-scented air on them. After five minutes they retook the survey.
Outcomes : Twelve residents completed the study. 92% (11/12) had an initial score above 12 with initial mean score 14.83 +/- 0.98. Post-intervention anxiety scores were 10.25 +/- 1.45, total average reduction of 4.58 (95% CI 3.29-5.87, Wilcoxon matched-pairs signed rank test p = .0005). All post-intervention scores were below 12. One participant reported eye strain which resolved after the experience. No other adverse effects were reported.