One of the drawbacks of telehealth has been the two-dimensional aspect of the technology, with medical practitioners as observers and patients as the observed.
However, a new technology is expanding the practice through the use of virtual reality (VR), which bridges the gap between practitioner and patient to create an uncommon state of shared experiences.
XRHealth, with headquarters in Boston and Israel, has devised an approach that blends software with VR technology solutions in a manner that enables the treatment of significant health conditions. This is achieved by putting the patients through VR-based games and activities that measure mobility and pain thresholds.
For example, a patient seeking upper extremity rehabilitation would put on an Oculus VR headset to engage in a game where virtual swords are swung at a series of balloons that appear and disappear, while another exercise explores cognitive training via a memory game using a virtual conveyor belt of items that a patient is challenged to recognize.
While the XRHealth approach might seem like fun and games for the patient, there are serious medical observations that take place during the activities. The clinical staff can control the VR unit while the patient is wearing it and is able to see what the patient is viewing. Clinicians can remotely adjust the settings and treatment while the patient is in motion. After an initial training session, the patient can use the headset independently, with the therapy data being stored and analyzed in real-time, thus allowing clinicians to monitor patient status.
XRHealth, which began in 2016 under the name VRHealth, is promoting its technology for acute conditions, including traumatic brain injury and stroke rehabilitation, chronic pain treatment, spinal cord injuries, neurological disorders, memory decline and anxiety attacks.
Eran Orr, the company’s CEO, called the technology a “game-changer” by enabling medical practitioners to see the world — albeit a computer-generated version — the same way as the patient.
“The VR headset is able to capture and analyze everything we do and quantify processing that had been very hard to quantify,” he explained.
Last October, the company received Series A funding from AARP Innovation Labs to focus on health maintenance therapies for seniors. In November, Israel’s Sheba Hospital announced it would be utilizing XRHealth’s technology throughout each of its departments, adding it would become the world’s first VR-based hospital. Amitai Ziv, director of Sheba’s Rehabilitation Hospital, stated the XRHealth systems would also “be able to provide improved training for our facility, along with better and more personalized care for our patients.”
XRHealth partnered with the VA St. Louis Healthcare System to bring its brand of VR therapy to veterans seeking pain relief, rehabilitation and relaxation for various medical conditions. On March 1, XRHealth launched VR telehealth clinics in New York, Connecticut and six other states plus the District of Columbia, with more markets scheduled for later this year.
Orr noted his company has contracts with four health care providers and is in negotiations with 50 more, including Medicare.
“The insurance companies understand that if we provide good access to medical devices, people will become healthier,” he said. “That reduces the cost of care.”