Events, Health IT

This is how AppliedVR is easing cancer patients’ anxiety

Virtual reality isn’t only used in the video game industry — it can have a significant impact on healthcare as well. Matthew Stoudt, CEO of AppliedVR, shared how the technology can improve the lives of patients.

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Matthew Stoudt’s background isn’t in healthcare.

He previously served as CEO of Outcast Media, a digital media company. After selling the company in 2014, Stoudt “had to go on a bit of a vision quest to find out what was next,” he said.

But what stuck with him were the words of a friend: “The first half of your life, you think about success. The second half of your life, you think about significance.”

Seeking that significance is what led Stoudt to the healthcare space and AppliedVR, where he now serves as CEO. The Los Angeles, California-based company provides a virtual reality platform to patients in the clinical setting. It currently works with more than 50 healthcare systems across the country.

In a recent phone interview, Stoudt — who will be a featured speaker at the upcoming MedCity CONVERGE in Philadelphia — discussed the value VR can bring to the oncology space and beyond.

“When people think about VR in cancer, they go to purely the distraction,” Stoudt said. Using virtual reality, patients can be transported from the drab setting of the infusion center to a more relaxing or exciting location.

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Yet there’s more than just the distraction aspect. On a deeper level, VR can reduce patients’ anxiety levels. Merely having to show up at the hospital is stress-inducing.

“It raises your cortisol,” Stoudt said. “If we can help reduce that anxiety and stress, we can have a more positive impact on the body.”

Those feelings of uneasiness often extend beyond a patient’s initial arrival. Because cancer patients often feel worried before surgery, it’s key to reduce stress pre-op, Stoudt pointed out.

Despite its benefits, VR isn’t a one-size-fits-all model in the healthcare world.

“People love to talk about panaceas. VR’s not a panacea,” Stoudt said. “You want to be sensitive about where, why and when you use it.”

For example, older patients often have a difficult time adjusting to new technologies. Since they can be reticent about using VR, providers must be sure to introduce it in the right manner.

Though virtual reality has already come so far, there’s still a way to go. Stoudt stressed the need for AppliedVR to focus on accessibility and workflow design.

Giving VR technology to more individuals in more locations will not only be doing patients a service, but will ultimately result in more savings in the healthcare world. By making VR easier to utilize, more physicians will likely be willing to adopt it.

In the end, it boils down to helping each patient. And when the usefulness of VR is palpable, it’s all the more impactful.

Stoudt illustrated this impact by discussing a multiple sclerosis patient’s encounter with virtual reality. Less than one minute after beginning a VR experience, she had what Stoudt called the “moment of cognitive immersion” — the moment when she lost connection with the outside world and accepted the virtual world.

A “sense of well-being came over her body and face,” Stoudt said. “It was amazing to see the rest we were able to give that woman.”

AppliedVR hopes to bring that same sense of respite to a host of other patients. “We’re all about doing whatever it takes to help people,” Stoudt concluded.

Photo: KatarzynaBialasiewicz, Getty Images