How can broadband help with the opioid crisis?

Yesterday at the Border to Border MN Broadband conference, Broadband Task Force member Maureen Ideker said her goal was to find a way for broadband to help with the opioid crisis. Maureen is a nurse and has been involved with telehealth for a long time; I remember when she spoke to the original Task Force as an expert in 2009. Thinking that broadband could prevent opioid addiction seemed like a big,  but fantastic, ask.

Then I remembered just the day before Chuck Olsen (Visual) talked about how virtual reality (VR) was more effective with pain management than morphine. In a test 10 years ago, they used VR to distract a veteran while he was being treated for burns. VR reduced his pain by 50 percent; morphine will only reduce pain by 30 percent.

You can see how it works below

Perusing the literature, it sounds like the health care profession has been using VR for acute pain for a while and it looks like more work is being done to help with chronic pain too. Keeping patients away from opioids is clearly a big step to solving the problem.

Pain Pathways Magazine noted…

While Dr. Gromala acknowledges that opioids have their place, she also believes that any tool she can offer patients to better manage their pain that isn’t an opioid is important. Since the late 1990s, some studies have shown that VR reduced the need for opioids in patients who had acute pain and who used VR during very painful procedures.

“If we can achieve the same results for chronic pain, that would be a game changer,“ she states.

And the doctors approve…

The medical community has been surprisingly positive about VR. For acute pain, VR has become commercially available in the last two years or so. It will take a little more time for VR for chronic pain to become accessible, but it’s already in the hands of some pain experts. The technology is still not as stable as Dr. Gromala’s team would like, and it’s incredibly expensive to develop what she refers to as “content.” But VR researchers, pain doctors and other health providers have been forming networks to speed up development and access.

“Based on the response I have when I present my research at medical and especially pain conferences, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for VR. Now we have to do the hard work of figuring out how to integrate VR in health care systems,” states Dr. Gromala.

The key is access to the technology – and for folks in remote areas, especially folks who might be difficult to move, broadband is part of the answer!

This entry was posted in Broadband Applications, Healthcare by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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