Source: ThinkStock

– A business accelerator launched out of the University of California at San Francisco is studying how digital therapeutic platforms, including virtual and augmented reality, can be used to improve access to care for underserved populations.

USCF’s S.O.L.V.E. Health Tech is partnering with AppliedVR, a Los Angeles-based developer of virtual reality treatments, on the program.

“The opportunity to work alongside AppliedVR in its quest to deliver virtual reality treatment to all patients helps fulfill our mission because of the sheer unmet need in the space of safe and effective pain management,” Urmimala Sarkar, MD, MPH, a professor of medicine at UCSF Professor and co-founder of S.O.L.V.E. Health Tech, said in a press release. “The unique ability of virtual reality to create an immersive and interactive environment has the potential to be a cost-effective strategy to deliver pain management for diverse patients, in the time and place of their choosing.”

“Patients who face socioeconomic or social determinant-related burdens and challenges should not be limited in treatment options – especially if or when in need of novel or non-pharmacological treatment alternatives,” added Matthew Stoudt, AppliedVR’s co-founder and chief executive officer.

The project, which began in December, involves interviews with healthcare providers who are using virtual reality and other mHealth platforms in treating underserved populations. By identifying barriers to sustainability and scalability, researchers hope to create best practices that would allow providers and companies like AppliedVR to improve their AR and VR services.

Championed by health systems like Los Angeles-based Cedars-Sinai, which hosts an annual conference focused on VR applications in healthcare, the mHealth platform is now in use in dozens of locations around the country to help patients with issues like pain management, physical therapy and treatment of nervous disorders like anxiety. Earlier this year, Cedars-Sinai presented the results of a study that found VR to be effective as a digital therapeutic for in-patient treatment of pain.

“We found that on-demand use of VR in a diverse group of hospitalized patients was well tolerated and resulted in statistically significant improvements in pain versus a control group exposed to an in-room ‘health and wellness’ television channel,” the study, led by Brennan Spiegel, MD, concluded. “These results build upon earlier studies and further indicate that VR is an effective adjunctive therapy to complement traditional pain management protocols in hospitalized patients.”