Montreal’s Shriners Hospital fights pain, anxiety using virtual reality

Global News | March 22 2023

If you’ve ever been in a room with a child getting a needle or an IV, you know it can be a pretty unpleasant experience.

Montreal’s Shriners Hospital for Children is reporting resounding success using virtual reality to make medical procedures easier.

After years of research, the institution has now fully integrated VR into its daily operations.

Ten-year-old Alab Aguila has been a patient at Shriners since he was a baby.

“Alab has brittle bone disorder or osteogenesis imperfecta,” said Joanne Aguila, Alab’s mother. “It’s a genetic disorder that he has ever since has been has been born.”

His condition requires infusions every three months and getting an IV inserted used to be totally overwhelming.

“It was so hard, like he would be he would be crying, he would be resisting,” his mother explained.


A few years ago when he was asked to be part of a study on virtual reality use in the hospital, he was thrilled.

“It was really exciting to be in this study because VR  is very exciting for me, especially as a gamer,” Alab said.

The Shriners’ study began in 2018. A team reviewed the scientific literature on the use of VR in health care for kids, then launched their own trial.

In an effort to distract, they put VR headsets equipped with a video game on children undergoing medical procedures that could cause anxiety and pain.

“That included kids who were going through the cast removals, pin removals, IV, inserts,” said Argerie Tsimicalis, nurse scientist at Shriners.

“It’s really anything that is medically necessary and yet can cause quite a bit of anxiety and distress and pain in the children.”

The researchers say the results were almost exclusively positive. Kids get completely distracted by the immersive game. Dr. Reggie Hamdy appreciates how unlike anxiety-reducing drugs, there are no side effects from playing a VR game.

“You are transforming a painful procedure to an amazing procedure,” said Hamdy, an orthopedic surgeon at Shriners. “The children love it.”