Samsung, Travelers, Cedars-Sinai partner on VR pain management study

By Jonah Comstock
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At HIMSS last week, Samsung announced a partnership with Travelers Insurance, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Bayer, and AppliedVR around using virtual reality for pain management. Samsung and Travelers will fund a 16-month study of between 90 and 140 patients, conducted at Cedars using technology from Samsung, Bayer, and AppliedVR.

"We just completed a randomized control trial that shows you can decrease pain with VR by 52 percent," Samsung Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Rhew told MobiHealthNews in an interview at HIMSS last week. "And we’re now doing another study with Travelers to look specifically at how does that apply specifically in a worker’s compensation environment? How does that impact cost or return to work?"

Patients in the trial will use therapeutic VR -- delivered via a Samsung Gear VR headset paired with a TENS nerve stimulation device from Bayer and a GearFit 2 tracker, also from Samsung. Participants will track day-to-day functional status, work productivity, and their use of pain medications.

"Workplace injuries that lead to chronic pain can cause ongoing issues, as an injured employee may mask pain with opioids or other drugs,” Dr. Melissa Burke, national pharmacy director at Travelers, said in a statement. “Identifying new, non-pharmacologic alternatives for pain management can help an injured employee avoid chronic pain, lower the chances that they will develop a dangerous opioid addiction and reduce medical costs. We are grateful for this partnership and look forward to seeing the results that Dr. Brennan Spiegel and the Cedars-Sinai team uncover using the latest technology from AppliedVR, Bayer and Samsung.”

In addition to announcing the Travelers collaboration, at HIMSS Samsung demonstrated a number of other use cases for therapeutic VR using its technology.

"I think one of the most remarkable things about virtual reality is we have always thought of this as a great entertainment and distraction tool," Rhew said during a panel presentation. "What we haven’t really thought of it as is a therapeutic tool. And specifically being used to treat conditions such as pain, stress, anxiety, blindness, post-traumatic stress disorder, stroke, spinal cord injury. There’s a lot of research now which is being brought to life and enabled by technologies from Samsung."

One company, IrisVision, uses a modified Samsung Gear VR headset as an augmented reality device to help people with very poor vision see. In patients with macular degeneration, patients have a large blindspot in their vision. But they can actually see what's in that blindspot, it's just small and hard to focus on. The VR headset filters the patient's vision through the phone's camera and augments it with a "bubble" that can magnify the effected area. A study at Johns Hopkins showed the technology could improve vision from 20/400 to 20/30. Additional features can help users to read text or overcome light sensitivity.

"That’s the kind of stuff that we had not anticipated this technology could actually solve," Rhew told MobiHealthNews. "We didn’t know we could decrease pain, we didn’t know we could restore vision, and then there’s been other research for more traditional stuff like post-traumatic stress disorder, stroke, things like that. Just remarkable things that we’re seeing."