Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian and BehaVR have teamed up to offer moms-to-be NurtureVR, a virtual reality program that supplies prenatal education, pain management, mindfulness strategies and support after giving birth.
The system will launch at Hoag in September as a pilot program before becoming available to healthcare providers and health plans in November.
“We are delighted to partner with BehaVR to create and bring NurtureVR to new and expectant mothers across the nation,” said Dr. Allyson Brooks, the Ginny Ueberroth executive medical director endowed chair of Hoag Women’s Health Institute, in a statement. “This program was developed by women for women. It incorporates the insights of women who are pregnant or were recently pregnant to ensure that it meets needs that are as diverse as the experiences of pregnancy and early motherhood.”
NurtureVR was designed to be used at home as expectant mothers enter their third trimesters. Using VR headsets, pregnant people can access 14 weeks of educational material, guided meditation, and immersive pain- and stress-management experiences.
Once the baby is born, mothers can continue to use NurtureVR for an additional eight weeks, including programming covering parent-child bonding, partner intimacy, stress management as a new parent, and information on hormonal and emotional changes.
Users can upload 3D ultrasound images to the system, which allows for personal customization. Beyond that, moms-to-be can select different sounds and visuals while they interact with NurtureVR, including the mother’s and baby’s skin tones, the landscapes a woman sees and the way a woman chooses to hold her baby while breastfeeding.
WHY THIS MATTERS
VR has been used in numerous studies showing its effectiveness in helping patients with pain management and relaxation.
Specifically for pregnant women, VR is effective for reducing pain during childbirth, according to a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
“Hoag knows firsthand how beneficial VR technology can be in helping patients with pain management, patient education and mindfulness,” said Dr. Robert Louis, the chief of neurosurgery for the Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute at Hoag, in a statement. “NurtureVR combines our decades of caring for women and years of VR experience with the perspective and technology of BehaVR, which has allowed us to create a program that is unlike anything else we’re seeing in therapeutic VR or in women’s health.”
The fact that NurtureVR allows for customization in its programming follows recent research that personalized VR may produce “more sophisticated and long-lasting relaxation in users,” according to research published in Frontiers in Psychology.
THE LARGER TREND
VR is becoming increasingly popular for at-home use, with XRHealth launching a VR telehealth clinic in March. The service offers remote rehabilitation for a number of conditions, including traumatic brain injury, stroke rehabilitation, stress, anxiety, chronic pain, hot flashes and spinal cord injuries.
Beyond VR, the femtech industry has released a number of tech-enabled products targeted at expecting mothers.
Earlier this month, FitTrack launched a smart-scale to be used by mothers during and after pregnancy.
Royal Philips announced a new product line dubbed the Avalon Fetal Monitoring Portfolio that can continuously monitor both the maternal heart rate and fetal heart rate, as well as uterine activity, with a dispensable electrode patch. The company also announced its plans to launch Lumify, a handheld ultrasound telehealth product in Japan.
Despite having significant growth in the digital health space, the femtech sector has received some backlash for primarily focusing on fertility, pregnancy or motherhood, leaving many other women’s health areas underserved. Stakeholders have expressed optimism for the industry to expand into other areas, including sexual wellness and contraception.
ON THE RECORD
“We believe that VR is going to become standard for maternal education, pain management related to pregnancy, emotional health and support for the coming generation of parents, and we are pleased to be on the leading edge of this trend,” said Dr. Brooks in a statement. “We recognize that healthy moms lead to healthy babies, and VR is an exciting new tool to help get us there. I envision mothers developing a relationship with the VR experience that allows them to feel better about themselves, to reduce feelings of angst and confusion and to remind them to take care of themselves.”