Background: Perception of pain during surgical abortion is nuanced and affected by physical as well as psychosocial factors—notably the experience of anxiety, which can significantly increase perceived pain during abortion. Recent innovation in virtual reality (VR) has generated increased interest in its potential use as an inventive and non-invasive method for managing patient anxiety and subsequently decreasing acute pain. We assessed the usability of immersive VR and its impact on perceived anxiety and pain among women presenting for a first-trimester surgical abortion at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) West-Medical Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinic.
Methods: Using purposive sampling methods, we recruited women ages 18+ (n=10) presenting for a first trimester surgical abortion at the UCLA West-Medical Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinic, over a two-month period. Participants were given a commercially available VR device to wear during the procedure. In-depth interviews were conducted post-surgery with participants to understand their experience using the VR device and any impact it had on their perceived anxiety and pain. The interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using grounded theory via Dedoose.
Results: Nine out of ten participants found the VR device to be comfortable and ten out of ten participants stated they would recommend it to others. These findings suggest that participants had an overall positive experience using the VR device, as it proved to be practical and well received. Eight out of ten participants had an issue maintaining focus of the VR experience during the procedure. Among these participants, six stated their focus was affected by the clarity of the experience and two stated it was due to their supine position. All participants stated the VR device lessened their anxiety during the procedure. Described as a “distraction”, the VR experience proved to be an effective tool that helped participants feel calm and less anxious during and even after the procedure. Seven out of ten participants reported the VR device reduced their pain during the procedure.
Conclusions: The results of this feasibility study suggest the VR device was well received and its three-dimensional experiences can help reduce perceived anxiety and pain among women undergoing a first trimester surgical abortion. Moving forward, the study team will advance this study’s objectives and findings by working with AppliedVR to improve the clarity and focus of the VR device, and perform quantitative studies to further elucidate VR’s potential effect on anxiety and pain during gynecological procedures.