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XRHealth's Virtual Clinics: A (Good) Example of Health-Tech Usability

By: Carla Chinski

Twitter: @thelatestbyte

Post Date: 2023-10-13

XRHealth's Virtual Clinics: A (Good) Example of Health-Tech Usability

The landscape of healthcare is being reimagined by technology, and at the forefront of this metamorphosis is Virtual Reality (VR). Initially incubated within gaming and entertainment sectors, VR is now spreading its wings, particularly within the realm of healthcare. XRHealth, a pioneer in the field, is using VR to open doors to a new model of healthcare delivery—virtual clinics. In this article, we explore XRHealth's journey, the concept of virtual clinics, and the implications of VR's burgeoning role in healthcare.

Virtual reality in healthcare aligns with the broader trend of 'gamification', the application of game-design elements to non-game contexts. In healthcare, gamification has been used to promote healthy behaviors and enhance patient engagement. By combining gamification with immersive VR technology, companies like XRHealth are creating engaging, interactive healthcare experiences that may contribute to better health outcomes. How is usability to be guaranteed in the case of health-tech?

Well, usability in health tech poses specific challenges. Firstly, because the technology is aimed at treating pathologies, diseases, and other ailments, which means from the start that patient mobility, mental health wellbeing and physical health is not guaranteed so as to make full use of this technology. So, innovating in health poses the question: can we design for all?

Decoding XRHealth: A Revolutionary Vision

One of the keys is service diversification and reliance on human services, such as choosing a physician to guide you through recovery for mental or physical health. Founded in 2016, XRHealth sought to merge the realms of healthcare and VR technology, driven by CEO Eran Orr's vision. "We wanted to use VR as a tool to address health challenges in a new way, bridging the gap between patients and providers," Orr states in an interview.

The centerpiece of XRHealth is its 'virtual clinics,’ online platforms delivering various VR-enabled treatments to patients in their homes. "It’s all about accessibility. We want to help patients who can't travel or who are in remote locations still receive high-quality healthcare," explains Orr. XRHealth's virtual clinics cover a spectrum of services, including pain management, cognitive training, rehabilitation, and psychological assessment. According to XRHealth's Clinical Director, Dr. Laurie Mellon, the effectiveness of these clinics stems from their interactive nature. "Virtual clinics allow patients to play an active role in their healthcare journey. This leads to higher engagement, which we know is crucial for successful treatment," she says.

A prime example of the interactive nature of XRHealth's clinics is the VRPhysio program. Patients perform exercises in a virtual environment that provides real-time biofeedback, leading to more effective and targeted treatment. In a recent interview, a patient of the VRPhysio program shared her experience: "The exercises were fun to do. It didn't feel like therapy, but I was getting better faster," she says. Patients echo the positive impact of XRHealth’s clinics. Mary, a patient suffering from chronic fibromyalgia, had tried numerous treatments with little success. After using XRHealth's pain management program, she reported a significant decrease in her pain levels: "After just four sessions, I noticed a dramatic difference. I have my life back," she states.

Testimonials such as these show that the emergence of virtual clinics like XRHealth could mark a seismic shift in the patient experience. Traditional barriers to healthcare access—such as geographical distance, time constraints, and physical mobility—can be mitigated by virtual clinics. However, for this innovation to have widespread impact, the accessibility and affordability of VR technology is key.

Why is XRHealth uniquely accessible? Because it doesn't rely on its main technological source 100% to guarantee its functioning. If it did, we'd be looking at a main concern for VR usability: its (ironically high incidence of) negative side-effects: "Studies show that excessive use of HMDs can cause anxiety, stress, isolation, addiction, and affect mood changes. Furthermore, simulated movements can cause feelings of disorientation and nausea." How can we, then, address these concerns?

Usability isn't accessibility

The innovation of XRHealth extends beyond its concept—it’s reflected in the results too. As of 2023, XRHealth has treated over 15,000 patients via their virtual clinics1. "On average, we've seen a 30% reduction in pain and a 50% improvement in mobility for patients using our services," says Orr.

Imagine stepping into a clinic where there are no waiting rooms, no crowded hallways, but an immersive, interactive space designed for you. XRHealth's virtual clinics provide just that—an environment tailored to each patient's needs. For instance, the VRPhysio program might transport you to a serene beach where you perform your exercises, receiving real-time feedback from your therapist who's present in the same virtual environment.

In the VR clinic's manuals and user Frequently Asked Questions, what is addressed in terms of usability is mainly concerning the manipulation of the headset (such as "What if my headset isn't charging?".) We believe there's room for improvement.

On the medical front, there's copious amounts of evidence regarding the effectivenes of treatment through Virtual Reality. Some of the conditions and patient issues treated--which include pain management, physiotherapy and Post-COVID rehabilition--are aimed at management, not _cure_, which keeps the promise fulfillable enough. A study quotes other literature on how "[i]mmersive technology has potential use in healthcare. For example, the use of VR has been shown to be useful in acute and chronic pain management and MR in-patient stroke rehabilitation, severe burns, and lower extremity injuries."

XRHealth's specific program provides diagnosis, treatment and a program aligned to patient needs following rigurous evaluation methods, with short and long-term goals, as well as criteria for patient discharge according to the treatment's objectives.

Future Trajectories and Potential Challenges

In terms of accessibility, a report by the International Telecommunication Union suggests that the digital divide is shrinking, with more people gaining internet access worldwide. This development, coupled with the decreasing costs of VR hardware, could potentially make VR-based healthcare more accessible to a larger population in the future. But, right now, the cost of VR equipment remains a barrier. According to Statista, the average cost of VR equipment in the US is around $300. This, combined with the price of specific healthcare applications, could make the technology out of reach for many patients.

Economic access notwithstanding, the success of XRHealth's virtual clinics marks an exciting milestone in the evolution of digital healthcare. However, there are still hurdles to overcome. Orr acknowledges the challenges: "High costs of VR equipment can be a barrier. We also need to ensure data security with these digital platforms," he says. The potential ethical questions about VR in healthcare are not lost on XRHealth's team. "We're aware of the possible side effects, like overuse or addiction. Ensuring ethical use is a priority for us," Dr. Mellon states.

Lastly, another study cites an important but often overlooked aspect of usability: visual realism. "It is worth mentioning that the psycho-visual design of the human brain al-lows the detection of even small unrealistic details, which can easily break the immersion and distract the patient and involve the need to repeat the exercise." s we delve deeper into the digital age, healthcare, and technology become increasingly intertwined. With XRHealth at the helm, VR is not just a futuristic concept but a present-day reality transforming how we approach healthcare.

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