Virtual reality (VR) is usually associated with gaming — you put on a headset and step into a virtual world where you can solve puzzles, slay enemies or gain experience. While we were simply floored by how amazing it was to play games in VR, everyone else just shrugged and went back to arguing about politics. While a great medium for playing video games, VR just hasn’t taken off as expected and is now in the “trough of disillusionment“. While VR gaming stalls, commercial applications are looking promising. In the same way that artificial intelligence is being focused on healthcare, many startups are creating virtual universes to change the face of healthcare for many people. Here are 15 startups working on applying virtual reality in healthcare.
Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy
Spanish startup Psious has taken in an undisclosed amount of funding to develop an exposure therapy tool which uses virtual reality. Exposure therapy is a tool used by psychologists to help individuals with fears, phobias, and mental illnesses. Virtual reality is an invaluable tool for patients who receive this treatment because it enables psychologists to create the necessary environments for exposure therapy while maintaining a safe and secure office environment. Additionally, their software allows the therapists to both get a real-time look at what their patient sees and adjust the experience as needed even during a session to ensure the best experience and results.
The VR headset needs to have the highest level of calibration to ensure that any biometric equipment synced with the virtual reality hardware to track patient vital signs provides the most accurate information.
Psious isn’t the only company working in this space. Another company that’s been working on this since 2001 is Virtual Reality Medical Center. Not much is known about who funds this firm, but they offer clinically validated products including Airport and Flight VR, Fear of Heights VR, and Virtual Reality Pain Distraction at multiple locations across the U.S.
Virtual Reality for Physical Therapy
Paralysis remains a difficult condition to treat, no matter its source. Physical therapy can only take you so far when the mind sees the body as impossible to heal. In cases like these, virtual reality becomes the perfect tool to trick the mind, for lack of a better term. Founded in 2012, Swiss startup MindMaze has taken in $108.5 million to develop a VR program which instills the idea that the paralyzed portions of the body are still functional. Unfortunately, the program hasn’t received approval from the FDA, so it can’t be used in U.S. hospitals yet, but it is having great success in European hospitals, where it has already seen use. The trick to this program’s success is the zero-latency equipment that transmits images and sound in real time without the delay normally associated with this kind of equipment. Just a few weeks ago, Mindmaze acquired another Swiss startup called GaitUp which uses smart sensors and wearables for motion analysis solutions that rival the accuracy of legacy motion labs.
Virtual Reality for Pain Relief
Founded in 1995, Seattle startup Firsthand Technology has taken in an undisclosed amount of funding to become “the leader in Virtual Reality for healthcare” with an emphasis on VR for pain. The firm helped establish the field of VR pain control and helped build the first VR pain relief application, SnowWorld, which was designed for patients recovering in hospital burn wards, allowing them to explore a world of snowmen and forget about their pain for a little bit. They are now spinning out the pain relief technology as a separate startup called DeepStream VR.
Chronic pain is a big business — nearly 80% of the opioid painkillers produced in the world are prescribed in the United States. Abuse is so rampant these days that they now market a pharmaceutical (on prime-time TV) to help with the constipation that opiod addicts suffer from. Studies have found VR helps to reduce the amount of time that patients spend thinking about their pain by nearly 50%. Narcotic painkillers, on the other hand, only reduce time spent thinking about pain by 10%. Consequently, we shouldn’t be surprised to see other startups enter this space, like Los Angeles based Applied VR which came onto the scene in 2015 with an undisclosed amount of funding to “offer patients a highly enjoyable escape from scary and painful experiences in healthcare“.
Training Surgeons with Virtual Reality
It turns out that virtual reality is a fantastic tool for training new surgeons to help them improve their surgery skills before they work on a live patient. Look no further than a company called Surgical Theater which has taken in $9.63 million in funding to develop a Surgery Rehearsal Platform (SRP) for neurosurgical pre-operative planning and rehearsal. The lead backer of this Ohio startup is none other than HTC Corp, the company behind the popular HTC Vive virtual reality headset. As the name implies, this is what you get up to on the platform:
Using VR to train and educate surgeons must really be the way forward given just how many other startups there are trying to enter this space. Here are just some of the players (the rest will no doubt be emailing us shortly asking why we “missed them”):
- Illinois based startup ImmersiveTouch has created software that allows surgical procedures to be recreated in a virtual world, allowing the surgeon to see, hear, feel, and touch the procedure. They’ve been around since 2005 and have taken in an undisclosed amount of funding.
- Founded in 2015, Massachusetts startup Vicarious Surgical has taken in $3.2 million in funding to develop virtual reality software for minimally invasive surgery procedures. This stealthy startup says almost nothing about what they’re getting up to, and that could be because of all the competition they’re facing.
- Founded in 2016, Bost startup Osso VR just raised $2 million in seed funding to develop their “award winning VR surgical simulation platform with advanced hand tracking”.
- Founded in 2015, French startup Revinax acquired startup Surgevry and now works with some big commercial names like Stryker (NYSE:SYK) and Boston Scientific (NYSE:BSX). Funding and acquisition amounts were undisclosed.
- Founded in 2007, VirtaMed is a Swiss company with undisclosed funding that develops & produces highly realistic surgical simulators for medical training. Check out all their simulators.
- With $1 million in funding, London startup Touch Surgery has developed an app for patients and doctors to review 50 different surgical procedures. Now they’re working on Touch Surgery 3D, a real-time engine that will power virtual surgery on VR platforms like Oculus.
If we did miss you on the above list of “virtual reality surgery startups”, please do drop us a note in the comments section below. We may do a deep dive into this space in the future because it seems quite popular.
Your Virtual Shrink Will See You Now
Is that still okay to refer to a psychologist as a shrink? Or has this joined the long list of words that people now find offensive? We haven’t a clue really, but what we do know is soon you may be putting on a virtual reality headset to talk to your shrink. Founded in 2011, Chicago startup Regroup Therapy has now taken in $8.4 million in funding to develop a platform that enables mental health professionals to virtually meet with patients at a variety of institutions. The startup is working towards eliminating mental healthcare shortages across the U.S. by providing virtual staffing of psychiatrists and therapists drawn from our network of 2,000+ providers.
Treating Lazy Eyes with Vidi Vision
Do you happen to
have a lazy eye be eye-focused challenged? One startup you should check out is Vivid Vision, a San Francisco startup that has taken in nearly $3 million to develop the world’s most advanced lazy eye treatment which is already being used by 88 clinics around the world. Designed to treat amblyopia (lazy eye), strabismus (crossed eyes), and vergence disorders (eyes not moving together properly), the system supports popular VR headsets like Oculus and Rift so that it can be used in the clinic or at home (with a prescription).
By simply playing games, you may be able to achieve results like art professor Betsy Yaros did. Using the software, Betsy was able to was able to gain 3D vision for the first time in her life.
Medical Training in Virtual Reality
After reading about how popular virtual reality surgery startups are, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see that general medical training is quite popular as well. This isn’t a can of worms we have time left to open. In doing our research for this article, we came across a fair number of startups using virtual reality for training in healthcare, like BioflightVR. Other VR training startups like STRIVR Labs aren’t just focused on healthcare, but provide VR-enabled training across all kinds of industries. The whole topic of “using VR for training” is worthy of its own article so be sure to sign up to our newsletter so you won’t miss that when it comes out.
When we look at virtual reality startups today, we see three unicorns (startups worth $1 billion or more). One is Mindmaze which we just discussed, the other is Improbable which builds virtual worlds, and the third is Magic Leap. It’s quickly becoming clear that virtual reality isn’t just for gaming anymore. In the healthcare industry, virtual worlds can help ease pain, improve exercise and rehabilitation sessions, and even help surgeons become better at their job. While a virtual world will never replace a trip to the doctor’s office, it is a great tool for anyone who might need a bit of extra help, because it can easily incorporate into any existing computer or gaming system in many cases.
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