15 health and wellness use cases for virtual reality

By MobiHealthNews
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11. Aging in Place
 
Senior citizens are often firmly outside of the target market for consumer electronics, but digital health innovators have found the demographic refreshingly receptive to many forms of technology. As people may find themselves less mobile as they age, virtual reality could be a particularly big hit as a means of experiencing a world outside, and one MIT startup is jumping on that opportunity.

Rendever offers Oculus-based VR headsets to people living in nursing homes, allowing them to “take a stroll down memory lane” by immersing themselves in imagery of their childhood home or favorite outdoor setting. Moreover, the VR serves to spark conversation among residents, and users can also go on a “tour” of a certain place together, like the Grand Canyon or Machuu Pichuu, or use a virtual paint brush to recreate famous works of art. The company reports facilities using their product have seen a 40 percent increase in their residents’ happiness

“We started to notice once they were done with the demo they would go back to their friends at their table and talk about what they experienced. It was social, it lit a spark,” Reed Hayes, one of Rendevor’s founders, told the Boston Globe. “Can you imagine coming up with a new conversation after being there 10 years and you haven’t been out?”
 
12. Stress Relief
 
A general wellness use case is to create immersive, relaxing environments to promote meditation and reduce stress. Those apps are easy enough to find in the app store, but some companies are going further.
 
San Jose-based Happinss is offering virtual relaxation apps in the context of corporate wellness programs. The company launched a dedicated corporate VR wellness room at the Amdocs Development and Operations Center in Guadalajara, Mexico.
 
Another company, Fisher Wallace Labs, partnered with virtual reality headset company Zeiss to combine neurostimulation and VR into a new product called Kortex, which recently raised $123,000 on Indiegogo.
 
“I think one story of Kortex is kind of this transition from medical device to consumer device. Fisher Wallace Labs, we’ve been a medical device company for 10 years and we’ve manufactured one prescription neurostimulator for the last 10 years called the Fisher Wallace stimulator,” Fisher-Wallace cofounder Kelly Roman told MobiHealthNews. “And that is a handheld device that has two wires that come up to electrodes that connect to a headband. And we have FDA clearance for that device to treat depression, anxiety, and insomnia. … When I saw the mobile headsets coming to market, I recognized that the headband was in the same place and there was room for our electrodes without disrupting the headset. So from a design perspective it could work. So what we did was basically for Kortex we altered the intended use so it’s not to treat depression, anxiety, insomnia -- it’s to manage stress and sleep, and that’s a general wellness claim.”
 
Fisher Wallace and Zeiss have plans to build special apps and curate content for VR-enhanced neurostimulation.
 
13. Fitness
 
Physical fitness is one of the most high-profile areas of digital health innovation, with countless wearables and apps on the market designed to help people get the most out of their bodies. On the other end, virtual reality typically only requires the ability to see. But technology marrying the two has proliferated nonetheless.
 
Connected stationary bike maker Peloton combines the exercise machinery with tablets to create virtual cycling classes. The $2,000 exercise bike integrated with a tablet-like screen allows sers can hop on the bike and join in live or pre-recorded classes with cycling instructors. During live sessions, real-time social features like leaderboards or video chats with friends keep users immersed in the process. The setup also allows users to track their rides and view combined metrics over time. It’s been a popular – and profitable – venture for Peloton, which just pulled n $325 million in late stage funding in May. In January, Peloton partnered with Fitbit to allow users to sync ride metrics directly to the Fitbit app, helping them see how cycling fits into their overall fitness goals. Each ride on Peloton is logged as an exercise in the Fitbit app, so all Peloton workouts and Fitbit data will be in one centralized location.
 
Peloton isn’t the only one. Three years ago, London-based Zwift launched a stationary bike MMO, or massive multiplayer online game. The game is displayed on a computer screen, but riders can adjust camera angles and other features from their phones, and a tablet version of the whole system is coming in the future. The system can also take in and use data from a chest-strap heart monitor, and can upload activity data to Strava, Garmin Connect, and Training Peaks.
 
In February 2013, Aetna launched Passage, which uses the Apple device’s built-in accelerometers as a pedometer to track the users’ steps whenever the app is open and running. It translates those steps to a virtual display of another location, shown on the screen in a 360 degree view. The app starts out with a course through Paris, which the user must complete in order to unlock subsequent locations.
And in December 2013.  Santa Clara, California-based Blue Goji, co-founded by Guitar Hero inventors Charles Huang and Kai Huang, launched an exergame called Goji Play which is meant to be played at the gym on exercise machines such as treadmills, elliptical machines and stationary bikes. Blue Goji has three components: the app, available only on iOS devices, a set of wireless controllers that can be attached to any fitness machine, and an activity tracker to wear while exercising.
 
In September 2014, Rock Health graduate BitGym, which makes mobile software for smartphones and tablets that display virtual runs or tools while the user works out on a treadmill, exercise bike, or elliptical, launched a new product. BitGym doesn’t connect to the exercise machine but instead gauges the user’s speed using the tablet’s front-facing camera, so it can be used on any workout machine. And a very similar crowdfunded offering, FitTrip, tracks heart rate in addition to speed and cadence.
 
14. Training Midwives
 
All of the advantages of using VR to train surgeons -- a safe, controlled, inexpensive environment for building up clinical skills -- can also apply to midwives.
 
The University of Newcastle in Australia announced in May that it’s using VR to prepare midwives for complications that could arise during a birth.
 
“With 15 per cent of births in Australia and New Zealand requiring some form of resuscitation – a number even higher in premature babies – it is imperative our students feel comfortable and confident applying their experience in a time-critical, emergency environment,” project leader Jessica Williams said in a statement. “New graduates may find transitioning from performing a neonatal resuscitation in an educational setting to a real-world emergency room an overwhelming shift, which is exactly why we designed the program to bridge that gap.”
 
The University uses Samsung GearVR, HTC Vive, and Microsoft HoloLens headsets for this and other educational initiatives. It is conducting a small randomized trial to see if this training is effective.
 
15. Dentist Visits
 
Most people don’t like going to the dentist, and some people find the experience extremely stressful. These days, dentists’ attempts to address the situation are along the lines of soothing music and beach scenes painted on the ceiling tiles. But VR could be game-changer.
 
The evidence so far is pretty scant -- a single n=80 study published recently in the journal Environment and Behavior. Patients in the intervention group explored a virtual environment -- using a Sony personal 3D viewer headset and a Zeemote JS1 Thumbstick Controller -- while having a tooth pulled or a cavity filled. Interestingly, the group tested a coastal and urban VR environment and found that one reduced reported pain, but the other did not.
 
“Engaging with the coast VR was associated with significantly less experienced pain than standard care,” researchers wrote. “This effect remained significant after controlling for age, gender, dental anxiety, type and duration of treatment. By contrast, there was no difference in experienced pain between the urban VR and standard care, either before or after controls were added. None of the control variables were significantly associated with experienced pain in their own right.”

At least one dental practice, Lake Minnetonka Dental in Minnesota, has already started using VR with patients via a partnership with virtual reality company Visual.