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Gaming the system with VR healthcare

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VR Medical is a Czech start-up with the ambition of improving healthcare outcomes through virtual reality (VR).

Anton Titov is Chief Product Officer at VR Medical and Innovation Leader at Direct People. The innovation agency collaborates with VR Medical on solution design and business development.

Health Tech World caught up with Anton to find out more about how the ever-evolving tech is revolutionising rehab and treatment.

Where does the VR Medical story begin?

We founded the company in December 2020 and began working on this project from January 2021.

During the first month, we talked to experts from different areas, mostly medicine, about where VR could best be implemented. We looked at everything from sales and training processes, to healing and rehabilitation, as well as pain management and preparing patients for treatment.

We worked with orthopaedic staff at University Hospital, Pilsen, to understand how to adapt traditional rehabilitation into gaming VR to create a kind of virtual rehabilitation playground for patients.

How is the technology being used right now?

We will never stop designing products with patients and medical personnel. But we’ve come a long way in 12 months. We now have more than 40 applications for different rehabilitation goals.

They all fit into three areas: Physiotherapy, neurotherapy and occupational therapy.

If we take the example of a stroke patient.

We can provide them with what looks like a normal, casual home activity like washing a glass and we train these micromovements to help them complete the task.

There’s a lot happening to the brain in VR.

First, we’re distracting patients from their reality, allowing them to dive into a whole new experience. And because the brain is so overwhelmed by these new sounds and visuals, it is distracted from pain and helps patients to overcome their physical barriers.

One US study in burns patients found that, when bandages were being changed, VR decreased pain by 70 per cent.

Look at patients who have problems with stability.

Anton Titov

Normally, their consciousness is busy with handling movements and balance. But in VR, the brain focuses on the gaming activity and the subconscious takes over stability and balance so the body can work twice as effectively.

People are able to double or triple the amount of exercise in VR compared to conventional therapy because they are not limited by their pain or their expectations.

How responsive are patients to the technology?

We were initially concerned that older people might not want to use it. But the opposite has been the case.

Even people in their 50s who aren’t at all into tech love it because they’re transported to another world that is so much more exciting than their day-to-day reality. They are able to combat their fatigue and depression.

What about doctors?

At the first meeting, doctors will say that they like the technology but want to see it in action at another hospital before committing to trying it. But physical therapists understand the value of the tech straight away and they can see how it speeds up rehabilitation.

One thing that our technology can do that is not achievable with conventional rehab is to ‘fake’ reality. By showing a smaller version of a hand, you can decrease the pain level in that region.

You can also increase the level of movement, for example, in a stroke patient who is unable to make a fist. Your brain sees you making that movement and builds neuroplasticity.

Kind of like mirror therapy?

Exactly. But with mirror neurons, you only show the right hand and not the left, for example. But with VR you can fake the movement of the same hand and thus support neuroplasticity, restore brain functions in a reverse way.

Have you conducted clinical research?

We’re trying to get the product into more hospitals. We have more than 30 hospitals and clinics in the pipeline for the Czech Republic, and we have already finished pre-pilot studies in five.

More than 300 patients have used the technology which has given us a lot of data.

Through observation we can see that their moods are improving, they feel better and they can achieve more.

We have already conducted studies, where, for example, one patient undertakes 10 sessions over two weeks and we then observe improvements in health, stability, mood and pain.

More serious clinican studies are being designed across three hospitals and we’re discussing a clinical study for Germany, where all the patients have the same diagnosis.

We want to have a stable client base in the Czech Republic. It’s a bit of a challenge here with healthcare budgets. But we’ve seen the same with a hospital in London. If we can deliver a three month pilot, they will try to secure the budget.

Any plans to expand elsewhere?

We’ve taken steps towards expanding into the German market. We recently won the 4DigitalHealth Accelerator and we’re looking to build on that.

We’re also thinking about the US and the UAE where there’s a space for private clinics and remote/home healthcare.

VR can serve patients on a daily basis if they’re stuck at home for a long time, maybe under remove observation. The B2C market is definitely on our horizon right now.

We’re now looking for these niches where our solution can be even better than traditional therapy, which is hard because physiotherapists do such an amazing job.

Where do you see the technology evolving from here?

The technology is improving really quickly.

I think next versions of VR headsets will bring deeper level of immersion for patients through even better screens and also additional hardware as haptic gloves will give the ultimate ability to stimulate feelings of touch and pressure while interacting with the objects.

It’s really interesting where this technology is going.

What are your goals for the rest of 2022?

By the second quarter of this year, we hope to develop the product to the point where we can box it up and ship it to any hospital in the world where it can used autonomously with just our support videos.

We are planning the rollout across 10 hospitals here in the Czech Republic. That’s at least 10 headsets per hospital. Bigger hospitals have more reasons to use the tech for procedure pain management, physio and so on.

And then our clinical studies in Germany will give us further credibility to roll out elsewhere.

We really hope to establish ourselves in the US as well. Our competitors have already laid the groundwork there so we shouldn’t have to battle too hard with insurance companies for coverage.

We would also like to secure some pilots with US clients so we can improve the technology on their patient base with a view to fulfilling the requirements for FDA approval.

We’re already Medical Class Device One-certified in the EU. We built that certification on MDR, so we’re on the right track to becoming a Class II Medical Device in the US.

In the meantime, we want to cultivate interest from healthcare partners and insurance companies who can help us get into more hospitals and markets.

If someone with a network of clinics across, say Europe, were interested, that would be great too.

VRMedical.cz

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