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This article is the author’s final published version in PLoS ONE, Volume 16, Issue 10, October 2021, Article number e0259364.

The published version is available at Copyright © Vincent et al.

Publication made possible in part by support from the Jefferson Open Access Fund


Background: Virtual reality (VR) has proven effective in the treatment of specific phobias and trauma particularly when in-vivo exposure therapy might be costly (e.g. fear of flying, combat scenes). Similarly, VR has been associated with improvement of chronic pain and of acute pain during medical procedures. Despite its effectiveness as a healthcare tool, VR technology is not well-integrated into common practice. This qualitative study aims to explore the provider perception of the value of VR and identify barriers to VR implementation among healthcare providers.

Methods: A 66-item self-report survey was created to examine application of VR to clinical practice, perceived value of this treatment, ease of learning the technology, billing considerations, and other obstacles. 128 providers (MDs and PhDs) who were located in the United States and had used VR as a therapeutic tool in the past year were identified through research papers, as well as user lists and news articles from VR application websites. Of the 128 providers contacted, 17% (22) completed our online self-report measure. Of these, 13% of respondents (N = 17) completed greater than 75% of the questionnaire and were considered completers. Provider responses were collected over a one-month period and qualitatively analyzed.

Results: The majority of providers were from an academic institution (n = 12, 70.6%), and all providers practiced in the outpatient setting. Providers most commonly reported using VR for the treatment of acute pain and/or anxiety related to medical procedures (n = 11, 64.7%), followed by specific phobia (n = 6, 35.3%) and social phobia (n = 6, 35.3%). All providers agreed VR is a valuable tool they would recommend to colleagues. The majority (n = 15, 93.8%) believed VR helped their patients progress in treatment, compared with other methods. Providers cited the ability to individualize treatment (n = 14, 87.5%) and increase patient engagement (n = 15, 93.8%) as main benefits of VR. A minority reported negative feedback from patients about content (n = 4, 25%) or about the technology in general (n = 6, 37.5%), whereas all reported some form of positive feedback. The slight majority (n = 10, 58.8%) of providers did not find transitioning to VR difficult. Of those who did, cost was the most commonly cited barrier (n = 6). Regarding reimbursement, only 17.6% (n = 3) of providers reported the ability to bill for VR sessions. Most providers (n = 15, 88.2%) received training on their VR platform which they found beneficial. Comparing the trained and untrained groups found no significant difference in VR comfort level (p = 0.5058), the value of VR in practice (p = 0.551) or whether providers would recommend VR to others (p = 0.551), though sample sizes were small.

Conclusions: In corroboration with previous research, this study demonstrates that VR is well-received by patients and providers, allowing increased patient engagement and treatment individualization. However, associated costs, including an inability to bill for this service, can present a barrier to further implementation. These findings will guide further development of virtual reality as a standardized tool in psychiatry and pain management.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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