An Elizabethtown company is using virtual-reality technology to help participants change health behavior. BehaVR has been around for about a year and is using a technology that has been studied to treat PTSD, anxiety and pain management, for example. But BehaVR uses the tech to help change unhealthy behavior choices. Often patients know they should take steps to improve their health, but don’t always know how.
Founder and CEO Aaron Gani said virtual reality has been around for decades but now the technology available for high-end commercial VR experiences has become less expensive.
BehaVR uses the Oculus Rift VR system. The capability and quality that would have cost in the tens of thousands not long ago, now is available for less than $1,000, he said.
VR is different from a regular video program because it creates an immersive, transporting experience where patients often have visceral reactions.
This helps the participant develop empathy and focus in that moment.
“We thought it was worth exploring if virtual reality and the power of those immersive experiences can be applied to this problem of behavior change, which is so tough,” he said.
The company built a platform with agnostic content and plans to deliver a variety of therapies on that platform, starting with smoking cessation.
It’s a good therapy for them to launch the program because results are measurable, Gani said.
The platform creates an personalized experience for each patient for education, motivation and activation, Gani said.
With the VR experience, the participant learns how to understand their behavior to change it, their motivation of why they want to change and to believe they can change.
The experience uses guided and personalized mindfulness content, Gani said.
Mindfulness on its own has proven to be powerful for changing behavior and VR has been shown to help change behavior and to increase mindfulness so it’s a “supercharging” effect, he said.
In the Elizabethtown office on Ring Road, staff create 3-D modeling and coding to automate the program. They also work with servers that decide the personalization and work flow for each patient.
BehaVR staff animate an avatar named “Ariana,” who guides the VR experience, which also includes video of doctors giving information. In the VR environment, it feels like the doctor is seated across from the participant talking to them.
Potential patients are able to use the behavior modification platform through doctor’s offices and other medical professionals who decide to use the program. Once the database is set, Gani said it could possibly be used in business wellness programs.
Gani said he’s seen estimates 5 million VR headsets exist in the world today. By 2021, the estimation is 100 million, and by 2025, he said it’s predicted people use VR and augmented-reality technology for daily activities that the smart phone is used for today. VR changes how you use technology, he said.
The company is debating on the next therapy after smoking cessation but it possibly will be a program to prevent opioid addictions.
The VR experience will be used as an education program that goes through the risks of addiction before a patient goes into surgery. It also could be used post-surgery to help manage pain to rely less on medication. It won’t be for those who already have an addiction but to prevent addiction.
The use of VR in the medical field can help keep patients focused while giving valuable information.
“So much of what we look at on our screens is two dimensional and we simply look at it. With VR, you go inside it,” Gani said.
VR makes it more difficult for a patient’s mind to wander and helps it remain more focused. Because the visual and audio inputs are replaced, a patient knows it’s not real, but it still feels real, Gani said.
To learn more about BehaVR, go to www.behavr.com.