Nicklaus Children’s Hospital using VR headsets to help ease pain for patients

MIAMI – The doctor’s office is rarely anyone’s favorite place, especially when it involves needles, and that fear can be even more intense for our kids.

According to research from the CDC, as many as two in three children and one in four adults have strong fears around needles.

In this week’s “Technically Speaking” report, Local 10′s Gio Insignares introduces us to a new piece of technology easing the pain and making the patient experience a lot easier.

We’ve all experienced or seen the ways doctors try to distract and take your mind off the pain and anxiety those pricks can cause.

Well, now the process looks different at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.

It’s one of the few children’s hospitals in the country and the first in South Florida to offer this technology, and we got a first-hand look.

Behind a virtual reality headset, exists a whole new world.

In one case, it’s under the sea. In another, it’s a stroll across the forest.

All of it is courtesy of Smileyscope, a new device being used at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital to help alleviate what can be the hardest part of a doctor’s visit.

“We started in the emergency department for needle sticks, for IVs, and it was so effective that the word spread,” said Dr. David Seo, senior vice president and chief digital information officer for Nicklaus Children’s Health System.

That word of mouth reached Zoila Muiños and her daughter Carolina, who jumped at the chance to share how they feel about this innovative technology.

After putting the headset on, the patient is transported into that virtual world while the procedure is being done by the clinician, engaging all the senses and fully immersing them in what’s a choreographed experience.

It lowers anxiety, fear and pain – a conclusion additionally highlighted by Smileyscope in a clinical trial.

“I felt like I was in there,” Carolina Muiños said. “I wasn’t scared.”

“The only hard thing is to keep her from walking and running, and wandering around, because she wants to get the kitties and get the bubbles, and get the green bread from the cafe. She’s in love with it,” Carolina’s mom, Zoila Araica Muiños, said.

Smileyscope was implemented into the hospital in March.

It comes pre-loaded with a variety of content and is made for kids ages 4 and up, according to the company.

Parents have the choice whether or not to use the VR headset. But since its introduction, clinicians say the results have been unanimously positive.

“It’s the best,” Carolina said.

“Why is it the best?” Insignares asked.

“Because I used it and it was cool,” she said.

“They honestly forget that they’re in a hospital room. It also makes the job of the clinician a lot easier when it’s time to do an invasive procedure, like starting an IV or drawing labs,” said Diana Gomez, a clinical practice specialist in the emergency department.

“No matter how great of a mother I am, I can’t distract her eyes and ears. So imagine them taking blood with a little prick. No matter how good I am at hugging her and telling her all these wonderful words of affirmation, she’s still seeing that,” Araica Muiños said. “So the fact that I don’t have to hold her down or someone has to come in and help me hold her down and she panics and she cries and she loses a sense of trust and comfort -- that’s huge -- that’s everything.”

Smileyscope is being used not just here in Miami, but across the U.S., U.K., Europe, the United Arab Emirates and Australia.

At Nicklaus Children’s, the hospital has about a dozen of the Smileyscope headsets right now, and several rooms are actually permanently outfitted with different immersive experiences.

About the Author:

Gio Insignares joined the Local 10 News team in May 2021 as an anchor and reporter. He’ll be co-anchoring the new WSFL Morning Newscast, Monday-Friday from 7-9 a.m., and also contribute to other WPLG newscasts.