The University of Washington Seattle Harborview Burn Center has pioneered a number of advanced treatments, including early skin grafting. As a result of advances here and elsewhere, the chances of surviving a bad burn, and quality of living for survivors has improved dramatically over the past 20 years.
Unfortunately, the amount of pain and suffering experienced by patients during wound care remains a worldwide problem for burn victims as well as a number of other patient populations. When patients are resting (most of the time), opioids (morphine and morphine-related chemicals) are adequate for controlling their burn pain. In sharp contract, during wound care such as daily bandage changes, wound cleaning, staple removals and other procedures, opioids are not enough, not even close. About 86% of the burn patients reported having severe to excruciating pain during wound care, even when standard levels of opioids were used. The pain management techniques in use are not good enough. Patients are suffering, a fact particularly disturbing when the patients are children.
In 1996, Hunter Hoffman and David Patterson co-originated the new technique of using immersive Virtual Reality for pain control and began collaborating with Sam Sharar, MD shortly thereafter. Dr. Hoffman is a Virtual Reality researcher from the University of Washington Human Interface Technology Laboratory with a background in human cognition and attention. Since 1993 he has been exploring ways to increase the illusion of going inside the virtual worlds (presence), how Virtual Reality affects allocation of attentional resources, and therapeutic applications of Virtual Reality. Professor David R. Patterson studies psychological techniques such as hypnosis for reducing severe acute burn pain of patients at Harborview. Dr. Patterson is head of the Division of Psychology of the University of Washington Department of Rehabilitation Medicine.
Other methods of using Virtual Reality to reduce pain and social anxiety, including post traumatic stress disorder, have evolved from the work done on burn victims at University of Washington Harborview Burn Center.