Using Virtual Technology for Fear of Medical Procedures: A Systematic Review of the Effectiveness of Virtual Reality-Based Interventions

Aysenur Kilic*, Ashley Brown, Işıl Aras , Rita Hui, Jennifer Hare, Lyndsay Hughes, Lance McCracken

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Innovations in virtual reality (VR) technologies have improved the adaptability of its use in therapeutic settings, and VR has shown to be a promising treatment for fear of medical procedures, with research increasing in this area in recent years.

Purpose: This review aims to collate evidence for the impact of VR on fear of medical procedures.

Methods: CENTRAL (Cochrane), MEDLINE, EMBASE, and PsychINFO databases were searched up to October 2020. A mix of experimental and case-control studies were included for review, which evaluated the effectiveness of VR for fear, anxiety, and pain of medical procedures for people with needle phobia, dental phobia, claustrophobia of medical scans, and burn wound care anxiety. Risk of bias (RoB) was assessed by Cochrane and ROBINS-I tools.

Results: Twenty-eight studies were selected. Some studies included mixed participant groups of young people adults. The interventions varied, with VR used for distraction, hypnosis, or exposure. These were shown to be effective for reducing fear of medical procedures. However, effectiveness for blood-injection-injury phobias and burn wound care patients was unclear.

Conclusions: Evidence on the effectiveness of VR suggests that it does decrease fear of medical procedures in some situations. However, the RoB assessment illustrated a poor quality of studies across those included in this review, limiting the ability to draw firm general conclusions from the study findings. There is a need for further research exploring the use of VR technologies in the management of anxiety in physical health care settings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1062-1079
Number of pages18
JournalAnnals of behavioral medicine : a publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine
Issue number11
Early online date3 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021


  • Anxiety
  • medical procedures
  • Pain
  • virtual reality


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