To investigate whether Immersive Virtual Reality (VR) has a greater positive influence on oncology patients’ physical and emotional mood states when compared to an iPad attentional control condition. Our secondary objective was to understand what factors influenced VR effectiveness.
Participants were 90 oncology inpatients, aged 7-19 years, and their primary parent caregiver. Using a randomized controlled study design patients were allocated to VR (three content groups) or an iPad control condition. Pre-post-intervention self-report state measures were collected using visual analogue scales and an objective measure of physiological arousal (pulse rate). Post-intervention, patients reported on level of immersion, enjoyment and simulator sickness.
Patients benefited from both Immersive VR and novel iPad intervention with no statistically significant differences found between conditions on child outcomes. However, patients accessing Immersive VR consistently reported greater positive shifts in mood state and reductions in negative symptoms when compared with iPad. No change was observed in physiological arousal levels (pulse rate) in either condition before, during or immediately after intervention. Moderation analysis showed that the degree of child illness (PedsQL), sex, age, and level of immersion were important in influencing the magnitude of differences between the VR and iPad conditions on mood, anxiety and pain.
These preliminary findings support the use of Immersive VR in clinical oncology settings to improve patient well-being. Further studies examining the application of Immersive VR in supporting children adjusting to hospitalization and cancer treatment are therefore warranted. Factors found to moderate VR effectiveness provide important clinical implications.

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