So, in 2016, Orr took the plunge and launched XRHealth, hoping to deliver physical therapy to patients through “extended reality,” which includes augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality.
It works like this: people who need certain types of physical therapy or recovery – those with chronic pain, autism spectrum disorder or Parkinson’s disease, for example — can virtually meet with XRHealth’s team of clinicians for a one-hour screening session. After determining a diagnosis and treatment plan, XRHealth ships the patient a virtual reality headset (manufactured by HTC Vive) programmed with various applications, developed by XRHealth.
But what makes virtual reality physiotherapy better than standard treatment options? According to Stephanie Quigley, who used XRHealth to treat a back injury in 2020, the convenience of being at home was a selling point.
“I don’t think I would ever have gone to see a physical therapist as often as I saw this physical therapist because it was virtual,” Quigley said. “I did two sessions a week for a while. And I don’t think I could have gotten in my car, driven somewhere, gone through the program and come home twice a week. It was so convenient to just be at my house, turn on the camera and go.
Quigley is one of approximately 5,000 patients who have used XRHealth so far. Each VR program is adapted according to the needs of the patient. Someone with chronic shoulder pain could use the “balloon popping” program – think Fruit Ninja, but your arms do the slicing – where users move their arms in different ways which can be customized by the clinician. Someone recovering from post-traumatic stress might find the Deep Sea Meditation app helpful – they invites meditation while underwater, surrounded by virtual fish, with the aim of calming the user.
The programs developed by XRHealth are followed by clinicians when patients undergo therapy. Some clinicians choose to watch the patient via video call while they play games, meditate, or use other apps.
It’s not for everyone, however. Some may need more rigorous or intense treatment options that require close in-person monitoring. Others might be at risk for motion sickness or dizziness. Others may prefer to be physically present with their therapist. But patients who fit the bill say the benefits go beyond convenience.
“It made it so much fun,” Quigley said of the technology. “And then afterwards I realized that I actually felt a lot better.”
One of the challenges XRHealth faces is ensuring public trust. The company recently published a study that demonstrates that “virtual reality technology is viable in the treatment of upper extremity dysfunction in patients with multiple sclerosis,” according to a statement. The study observed 30 people using VR training solutions and found that “virtual reality training would be viable” for 26 out of 30 patients.
As virtual and augmented reality technologies expand, Orr believes the use cases for healthcare will increase.
“I think we have the potential to become – let’s call it the hospital of the metaverse,” Orr said., reference to the virtual world. “What we’re trying to build is a platform that allows the clinician to treat the patient in the metaverse, but not just as a gimmick, but as an actual modality of care.”
Collin Robisheaux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ColRobisheaux.
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