Pilot for mental wellbeing using immersive VR launched in Hong Kong

The pilot focuses on a jointly supported clinically-validated trial in Hong Kong using a modern VR technology platform for managing common mental health issues.
By Dean Koh
12:44 am

(Photo from left to right): Professor Fanny Cheung, Pro-Vice-Chancellor / Vice-President of CUHK, Gordon Watson, Chief Executive Officer of AXA Asia and Barnaby Perks, Chief Executive Officer of Oxford VR at the signing of Asia’s first partnership for mental wellbeing using immersive VR. Credit: AXA Hong Kong

AXA Hong Kong, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and Oxford VR (OVR) announced a first-of-a-kind partnership to pilot a groundbreaking automated immersive therapy using virtual reality (VR) for mental health in Asia including the Greater Bay Area.

What’s it about

The pilot focuses on a jointly supported clinically-validated trial in Hong Kong using a modern VR technology platform for managing common mental health issues, such as social avoidance, anxiety and depressive symptoms, in people's daily lives and work.

A variety of specially-designed scenarios will be developed for this clinically-verified trial. These scenarios will be offered in both English and Cantonese.

The pilot will involve the recruitment of the public to participate in the trial and is expected to be completed next year. Programme details will be announced at the upcoming launch in June.

What’s the trend

In Asia, there is generally a high level of stigma surrounding mental wellbeing, resulting from a lack of awareness and education. There is also a lack of resources and a trained workforce to cater for mental health needs. 

Technology has come into play to tackle some of these challenges, sometimes in the form of tools such as mental health apps but a recent study published in Nature Digital Medicine found that a majority of mental apps studied did not provide evidence or peer-reviewed studies to back up their product. In fact, in that study only two out of the 73 apps studied provided evidence from a study using the app.

Mental health digital tools have advantages over traditional pills, have fewer side effects and the ability to scale, but the challenge lies in implementing the tools correctly with proper evidence/peer-reviewed studies. The new pilot by AXA Hong Kong, CHUK and OVR seems to be a move in the right direction with its clinically-verified approach.

Last September, OVR, a spinout of Oxford University, landed $4.1M in funding and the company plans to use the new money to grow its VR platform and bring the technology to market.

On the record

“AXA's strategy is to transform from payer to partner to our customers,” said Gordon Watson, Chief Executive Officer of AXA Asia in a statement. 

“Our customers are telling us they want to have easier access to expertise and support for their mental wellbeing. We know the technology from Oxford VR works as it is already used in the UK National Health Service. AXA is proud to bring this technology to Hong Kong and Asia.

Not only will we provide educational awareness on the topic and improve access to psychological services, but the partnership with CUHK will build the research evidence to advance care for common mental health conditions worldwide. This is a clear demonstration of our strategy coming to life by engaging professional stakeholders and offering innovative solutions to promote people's wellbeing in Asia,” he added. 


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