Singing a song, whether it’s out loud or in one’s head, may help some people cope with imminent pain. But for those who are anxiously awaiting outpatient radiological procedures, or any other kind of minimally-invasive treatment, music might not be enough. It’s easy to tune out music, and the anxiety might just take over, making the pain worse. In these cases, watching videos may be more distracting, helping to ease patients’ nerves, according to a new study.

“Interventional radiologists are focused on innovation and creativity by applying novel devices to variable situations. Our study puts a spin on using modern technology to provide a safe, potentially cost-effective strategy of reducing anxiety, which can help and improve patient care,” said Dr. David L. Waldman, lead author of the study and chair of the Department of Imaging Sciences at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, in a statement. “Whether they’re watching a children’s movie or a nature show, patients wearing video glasses were successful at tuning out their surroundings. It’s an effective distraction technique that helps focus the individual’s attention away from the treatment.”

Although interventional radiology treatments, such as biopsies and catheter installations, are low-risk with less pain and recovery time than invasive surgery, patients may still become anxious beforehand. Some studies have shown that music and hypnosis reduce anxiety before these procedures, but only by a little bit. The researchers looked at how anxious some of these patients were when they underwent the procedure while wearing video glasses, which effectively focus their attention on the video inside. They studied a total of 49 patients, of whom 25 wore glasses and the rest did not.

The patients’ anxiety levels were also tested before and after the experiment using the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory Form (STAI). The test measures how high patients' anxiety levels are by considering anxiety inherent in their personalities, which is known as trait anxiety, while also looking at anxiety that manifested from their current situation, known as state anxiety.

The video glasses worked, reducing anxiety levels in patients by 18.1 percent. Patients from the control group, however, only saw their anxiety reduce by 7.5 percent after the procedure. They found that the glasses were especially useful for women and patients with high levels of trait anxiety. “Patients told us the video glasses really helped calm them down and took their mind off the treatment, and we now offer video glasses to help distract patients from medical treatment going on mere inches away,” Waldman said in the statement. “It is really comforting for patients, especially the ones who tend to be more nervous.”

Source: Fang A, Shmed S, Waldman D, et al. Clinical efficacy, safety, and feasibility of using video glasses during interventional radiologic procedures. Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology. 2014.