Pain management is one of the key applications of AppliedVR, a virtual reality platform that's being deployed in a number of healthcare settings. (AppliedVR)

AppliedVR is a winner of FierceHealthcare's Fierce 15 awards. See our other honorees here

As both political leaders and the healthcare industry seek solutions to the opioid crisis, virtual reality technology is emerging as one of the more promising, and nonaddictive, pain management tools.

Matthew Stoudt
Matthew Stoudt (AppliedVR)

Pain management is one of the key applications of AppliedVR, a virtual reality platform that's being deployed in hospitals and doctor's offices.

CEO Matthew Stoudt said there's plenty of evidence to back up the benefits of virtual reality in the healthcare space, but VR was long confined to the laboratory due to concerns about cost and mobility.

But the nationwide opioid epidemic made it the perfect time to launch VR as a pain management option, he said. The company completed or published four studies related to acute and chronic pain in 2019. 

"We wanted to do something that was truly transformational," said Stoudt.

The company received $2.9 million in funding in October from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to support clinical trials around using VR as an alternative to opioids.

The company is also exploring VR applications in behavioral health, home health, and physical therapy as well, Stoudt said.

Fierce insights from AppliedVR CEO Matthew Stoudt

What is your best piece of advice for launching a healthcare company that challenges the status quo?

There is no one right answer. It all depends on what is right for your startup and the problem you are trying to solve. As you think about that one right answer, keep two core principles in mind: One, Don’t be constrained by the legacy of healthcare, but don’t forget the legacy of healthcare.

And two, always keep in mind that there are often misaligned incentives among the patients, providers and payers. The more you’re able to find solutions for the needs of each critical stakeholder and articulate a value proposition that aligns with their interests, the better the likelihood of adoption. 

What is the failure you’ve learned the best lesson from?

In our first inpatient studies, we left a VR headset by the bedside with general use-as-needed language. This was like leaving a pill bottle without explicit instructions on how often to take the medication and what to expect. It’s important to spend just as much time developing and validating the protocol as the product itself. 

What is one change you predict in healthcare that people wouldn’t expect?

Picture this: You go to the hospital for spine surgery. Like 84% of patients, the last thing you want are opioids, which if even taken for one day can give you a 6% chance of addiction a year from now. Instead, you are given a daily regimen of therapeutic VR for pain management. Upon discharge, your doctor writes you a prescription for a therapeutic VR program.

When you get home, you begin an immersive post-op recovery program in VR that helps you learn to control your pain and address your comorbidities of depression, anxiety, and sleeplessness. It enables you to do PT rehab and even takes you inside your body to help you understand what is going on physiologically. And in the middle of the night when you have a pain flare, rather than rush to the emergency department, you reach for your headset for immediate relief. 

The VR pharmacy will be in every home, and by every hospital bedside, offering personalized therapeutic VR programs, medication management, and validated treatments to advance patient health, help strengthen the mind-body connection, and address acute and chronic diseases and health conditions.