The ‘Bleeding’ Edge In Healthcare And Well-Being, Part 2 ‘Gamer To Patient’

Last month’s article highlighted day one of the IVRHA (International Virtual Reality Healthcare Association) conference, and this month’s article highlights day two, with a spotlight on MetaImmersiveWorlds and Penumbra (PEN).

Laura Kusumoto, the XR Hub leader at Meta shared their mission of integrating Extended Reality tech into Meta’s work culture. Currently, Laura and her team are driving the integration of VR, AR, and mixed-reality experiences into the way they work, to increase productivity and strengthen connections with each other. Employee productivity and wellbeing have become a priority at Meta. It turns out that because of an expanding marketplace of wellness-related applications for Oculus, they may have the opportunity to support employee productivity by using them. Many studies point to employee well-being as the most significant predictor of productivity.

Life@ is a part of Meta’s HR organization that provides a wide range of benefits to employees. Life@ develops programs to promote overall well-being. Last year, Life@ made a major policy change. Exercise equipment became reimbursable, and Meta offered the Quest headset to be reimbursed as part of the program. These VR Apps in the Quest can support both mental and physical well-being. And due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a need to address workday stress, and the question arose, can these VR well-being apps help with this challenge? The team decided to develop a pilot program to test the proposition that yes, VR can help.

The design of the program was to bundle a collection of VR apps that help with stress management (mindfulness, focus) and then asked testers to use them consistently. The pilot program had 50 employee participants that were provided the headsets, instructions, and a tech support community. Participants used the VR well-being apps for 10 minutes 2x day for 30 days. The results from self-report surveys indicated that engaging in a VR for wellbeing session was associated with an average reduction in participants’ perceived stress of 35%. Many of the participants completing the post-pilot survey reported that overall, the pilot program had a positive effect on their wellbeing. What was exciting is that the pilot programs will be expanded to confirm results as Meta will be looking at a range of apps that might help. They are envisioning a day in which most people will have access to VR headsets and are starting to think about how VR can enable well-being to be a part of every workday.

“Gamer to patient” is not a new term for the team at ImmersiveWorld. Galen Ho and Henk Rogers cofounded the company in 2009 and Henk is known in the gaming world. He secured the rights to distribute Tetris on video game consoles where the game found popularity, as well as founded The Tetris Company. ImmersiveWorlds provides a platform for enterprise and e-commerce with a focus on retail/fashion, travel, and well-being. The well-being vertical is growing fast as a valuable solution to the current well-being crisis that has been exacerbated by COVID-19.

ImmersiveWorlds presented “Where Virtual Wellbeing Becomes Reality” and shared some highlights from the last six months of data collection from HR decision-makers. The top theme that emerged was “Changes in the Corporate Well-being Industry.”

Increased focus on mental health and mental health solutions due to COVID-19.

  • A more holistic definition of wellbeing.
  • The need for new solutions that provide, create, and enhance social connection for employees at the office, dedensified working arrangements or working from home.

Employers have doubled down on addressing and decreasing the stigma around mental health through various campaigns. In addition, organizations are expanding different modalities of mental health resources to address job loss, financial insecurity, social isolation, “burnout”, weight gain and depression. Leaders are moving beyond just physical wellbeing and return on investment strategies, to a more holistic approach to wellbeing (mental, emotional, physical, financial, social, and community). Interesting fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (WHO, 1948). Yes, that is 74 years ago.

The time is now, and HR decision-makers are interested, open, and ready to learn about new innovative options to solve the wellbeing crisis. Virtual worlds fit their criteria. Virtual worlds have been around for years, and numerous studies published (2012-2016) resulted in the efficacy of these modalities for weight management and mental health. Yet, observability has still been low outside of the gaming industry. The Virtual Wellbeing World is considered a "Positive Technology" and is becoming of high interest within the HR community. “While a single technology may not remedy the psychological strain of the pandemic and social isolation, the virtual world's potential as a conduit to clinical and social support systems cannot be overstated” Pimentel et al.,2021.

Penumbra (PEN), was represented by Adam Elsesser, the CEO of the global healthcare company. He shared his vision of growing virtual reality in healthcare. The first PEN product called VR REAL Immersive System transformed conventional rehabilitation. Then the REAL Immersive System i-Series offered a mature solution to a broad range of care providers and mental health professionals who were seeking tools to aid cognition and mental wellbeing. Most recently, PEN introduced the REAL® Immersive System y-Series™ with capabilities that go beyond the current platforms with more activities/experiences to help improve patient care and clinical rehabilitation therapy. This technology also provides an expanded content library inclusive of activities that address motor skills, cognition, core and balance, functional tasks, activities of daily living (ADLs), vision, and wellbeing. PEN is leading the way and changing the paradigm of healthcare and moving “gamer to patient.” Recently they hired Riley Russell, an expert with thirty years at Sony Interactive Entertainment (a multinational video game and digital entertainment company).

This conference provided unique content and perspectives from across the healthcare and wellbeing spectrum. In addition, there were new emerging voices from across the ecosystem: care, technology research and policy. According to Fran Ayalasomayajula, Executive digital health technologist and strategist, the immersive world is changing and shifting rapidly, and this multidisciplinary community is creating innovative experiences that have the power to improve human health and flourishing.

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