Closing the gate on pain

Thermal burns are traumatic, excruciating and often referred to as the most uncomfortable of all injuries for patients. They require repeat treatments and long-term therapy which causes significant and ongoing distress. The social pressures to step away from opioid-based pain management due to an epidemic of prescription opioid misuse combined with other undesirable side effects highlight the need to find another solution. What if there was a way to use distraction to safely manage pain during these burns treatments?

Viaso – A clinical VR headset


Studies have shown a 41% decrease in the highest pain intensity between VR and NO VR conditions during burns treatment.

H. G. Hoffman et al., 2011

Pain as a result of severe burns injury is often sub-optimally managed when treated with medication alone. Immersive Virtual Reality presents an exciting application as a nonpharmacological treatment as it provides a platform to integrate multiple sensory elements to increase the sense of ‘immersion’ for users and distract from their pain. Unfortunately, despite the growing body of research into VR for pain management, there is not a product that can safely meet patient, practitioner or regulatory needs. Due to the normalisation and democratisation of VR along with rapid technological advancement, there is a vast potential for clinical application of Virtual Reality from acute care through to rehabilitation.

Information about burns injuries
VR benefits graphics


Image of literature document

Download Literature Review

What is the best way to deliver a
multisensorial distraction centred around
Immersive Virtual Reality in a clinical burns


Following a six-month research phase examining existing literature and undertaking my primary research, I identified an opportunity for a design solution. It became clear very early on that there was a huge gap between consumer and clinical applications of Virtual Reality. From material choices, head strap design and overall product weight, consumer products were in no way suited to translate into clinical application. It was this problem I hoped to solve to allow for the benefits of distraction on pain management to be utilised in a hospital setting.


Consumer and clinical headsets

The literature tells us that distraction can be used to help lessen perceptions of pain, yet there is no clinically appropriate headset on the market. It is suggested that the pain-reducing effect is directly proportional to the level of immersion a person feels. At present, the bulky and crudely adapted applications of consumer products detract from the user experience of VR and as a result, limits the amount of pain relief they may experience.

The AR/VR market in healthcare is expected to be $7 billion market by 2025

Goldman Sachs (2019)


Product ecology map

Where exactly would a clinical headset be used?

Product system map

Intended use

This design is intended to be situated within acute hospital care for patients undergoing painful wound care and physiotherapy procedures. The research identified these areas of treatment where patients and practitioners stand to benefit most from a specialised clinical VR headset. There is a desire from both patients and clinicians to have VR as an available form of therapy throughout the burns recovery journey.

Non-pharmacological pain management needs to become far more prominent in burn care

questionnaire respondent (burns patient 65% Total Body Surface area burns)

Design Development

This process represents the journey of translating my newfound knowledge and understanding of Virtual Reality and Pain Management into a design that meets criteria extracted from my research.

Full Design Criteria



With hygiene, comfort and ergonomics being the critical criteria of my design, I sought inspiration from products with long sweeping surfaces and functional geometry. The final design had to be something that could be easily cleaned, stored and serviced.
Design process images

Concept Generation

Through product teardowns, user research and analysing existing solutions, I was able to narrow to a design direction that would effectively meet design criteria generated by my research. I even used Virtual Reality programs to explore concepts to help build empathy with VR users and identify key benefits and challenges of consumer headsets.
Images of prototypes


From low fidelity paper models through to numerous 3d printed prototypes, I was able to refine my design to create a final solution that reflected everything I had learnt throughout my research and development process.
CAD and visualisation images

CAD & Visualisation

This phase consisted of visualisation and detailed CAD modelling of my final solution to finalise positioning of internal components along with colour, material and finish of the final design.

OK, enough explaining Alex, show me the final product!


Final Design

Patient wearing a Viaso headset
List of product features

This design represents a speculative approach to solving the identified gap in the market for a Clinical VR Headset. As such, it leverages emerging technology to achieve this goal. The development of new optical technology such as digital varifocal lenses and increased processing power has allowed for the form of this design to be up to 70% lighter than current products. Bringing the focal plane closer to the user and decreasing the weight allows for a top-mounted strap helps solve comfort issues as a result of compression. This is a crucial consideration as patients are often undergoing procedures in a supine or reclined posture. The relevance of having an external and internal display lies in current issues when trying to communicate with a VR user when they are ‘immersed’. The two protrusions on the side of the design serve a dual function in occluding light and allowing easy nesting of components such as batteries and the inertial measurement unit. A biometric sensor array on the inner side tracks user heart rate and skin temperature to help provide quantitative information about their response to using the product. This is important to further research endeavours regarding implementing VR interventions and tracking patient responses to therapy. The internal face protection is a removable medical grade silicone attachment that can be interchanged to fit different sized heads and also be removed for easy sterilisation.

Full Design Justification

A solution for today and tomorrow

As part of this project I also wanted to explore how this problem could be solved in a more immediate way. In doing so myself and a team designed a solution that could be development much sooner. Check it out here:

Check it out

Alternate design

Alex Eviston

Alex Eviston is an enthusiastic designer who enjoys the design process from start-to-finish. Coming from a background in health has given him a unique perspective towards human-centred design, and this project was a perfect opportunity apply his cross-disciplinary knowledge to create a meaningful and resolved product with a hope to shape the future of clinical pain management.