VR Therapy Key to Patient Outcomes, Penumbra CEO Says

Virtual reality (VR) has faced a surge in demand among healthcare professionals tasked with assisting patients in their recovery journeys, with companies such as Rocket VR, Rendever, Virti, OssoVR, and many others tackling such obstacles with their innovative and effective immersive solutions.

One such company, Penumbra, leverages HTC VIVE headsets to provide patients with cutting-edge rehabilitative services aimed at expediting patient outcomes and tracking overall progress.

XR Today spoke to Adam Elsesser, CEO and Co-Founder of Penumbrato discuss how his company’s therapeutic VR rehabilitative solution has provided transformative outcomes for patients seeking recovery from physical and mental struggles.

XR Today: How do Penumbra’s REAL systems target specific goals for patient recovery? How do they compare to traditional rehabilitative techniques?

Adam Elsesser: The REAL Immersive System is transforming conventional rehabilitation by using VR to help improve patient confidence, motivation and adherence to physical and occupational therapy.

We currently have the REAL y-Series for clinical rehabilitation, and the REAL i-Series, to support the cognition and mental well-being of people with depressed and anxious moods, pain and discomfort, loneliness and age-related challenges. The REAL i-Series is currently being used in senior centers as well as clinics for chemotherapy and dialysis to help keep patients motivated.

One of the major benefits of using VR for rehabilitation is that it truly captures a patient’s imagination and motivates them throughout their course of rehab, especially to stick to their exercises and help them progress faster. The REAL System is meant to be integrated with a clinician’s therapy plan.

Extensive research supports the use of VR, combined with conventional therapy, to deliver better outcomes than conventional therapy alone. There could not be a more important time right now. There is a growing demand for innovations to improve and accelerate outcomes in rehabilitation – with forces such as COVID-19, the rise in chronic and mental illness, and the aging of America expected to drive more people into physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT) than ever before.

We have providers reporting back that, using our VR, their rehab patients are progressing faster than they’ve ever seen before, and that’s the ultimate goal: to help them return to their lives in the real world as fast as possible.

XR Today: Which organizations have you collaborated with to provide healthcare standards and research and development (R&D)?

Adam Elsesser: The REAL System is being used in clinics across the country bringing VR rehabilitation to thousands of patients. When developing the platform, we paired the expertise of award-winning game designers with the knowledge of rehabilitation specialists and physical therapy providers, so we can design these immersive experiences that are both physically and mentally engaging.

Our aim is to continue to develop and partner with others to create a comprehensive library of activities across one platform so providers across a variety of settings can easily access customizable tools with clinically experienced support teams to help a broad range of patients.

Last year, Penumbra donated the platform to SoldierStrong to support the US military through their rehabilitation, which is currently being used at more than 20 US military and veteran rehab centers.

XR Today: Have you noticed any specific trends in immersive healthcare? Why are hospitals and facilities turning to VR to support their patients?

Adam Elsesser: Rehabilitation, like other areas of healthcare, has been hard hit by staffing shortages, leaving clinicians under pressure to quicken patients’ recovery time. In addition, the pandemic accelerated the adoption of technology broadly in the healthcare experience.

So today, VR as a tool in the rehab setting isn’t unusual. It offers therapists a new tool to increase engagement and satisfaction with the rehab experience, which often leads to better patient outcomes in the real world.

It also allows a single therapist to effectively treat more patients or those with challenges accessing services and is well suited to creating situations where a therapist and patient can participate in a session from remote locations.

Hospitals and facilities are turning to VR to support their patients because improving patient outcomes is the major goal of a healthcare professional. The challenges that patients have in rehab have to do with adherence to care plans, monitoring and engagement. Rehab can be painful, difficult to do, boring and inconvenient for many.

VR immersive experiences motivate and challenge patients in ways that are engaging and entertaining, leaving them more likely to stick to a program, enjoy participating in it, and proactively seek these experiences.

XR Today: What kinds of healthcare data sharing does your company implement for its REAL systems? Do your solutions share data with healthcare providers, and how is this done securely?

Adam Elsesser: The REAL System enables providers to precisely measure patient progress with sensors that track movements and monitor progress. Providers can look at how a patient’s performance in the virtual world has become more accurate or faster over time. Physicians have secure access to the platform and data, which they can use with patients and insurers for updates on progress.

Today, VR is an extraordinary tool in rehabilitation when harnessed the right way, as it leverages the principles of neuroplasticity, intrinsically motivating patients to work harder and longer, ultimately accelerating patient recoveries.

The data that will be accumulated over the coming years will enable clinicians to personalize therapy in ways that aren’t even conceivable today. One day, we envision our platform serving as a one-stop-shop for VR rehabilitation services, patient, and mental health support, connecting providers and others who can leverage the full benefits of our platform. This is the reality and future of rehabilitation.

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