The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2018 last week in Las Vegas featured latest trend in digital health, suggesting promising future where access to healthcare becomes easier, quicker and more ubiquitous than ever. The market value of digital health industry, including mobile health, telehealth, and wireless health, was estimated to be 96 billion dollars in 2016 and is expected to reach 142 billion dollars by 2018. Even those who are oblivious of its tremendous market size had a chance to have firsthand experience of the technologies at the show and were convinced that digital health will completely transform traditional healthcare industry.
Wearable is a key digital health technology
Out of all digital health technologies, wearables that have remote monitoring sensors to keep track of patients’ conditions and provide feedback accordingly gained huge traction as innovative tech at CES. In particular, there was a considerable number of startups at the show attempting to capture the brain activity using wearables, thus promoting relaxation, managing stress, aiding sleep and potentially making treatment for cognitive and behavioral disorders more effective and personalized. Among such varied startup companies, Looxid Labs was definitely the most distinctive one to look out for at this year’s CES, for its technology combines brainwave monitoring with Virtual Reality (VR).
So many visitors at Looxid Labs’ booth expressed huge interest in trying out LooxidVR, a mobile VR headset embedded with EEG sensors and eye-tracking cameras, to conduct cognitive and behavioral therapy for widespread ailments such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Our several Medium posts have already discussed how VR combined with electroencephalography (EEG) monitoring can be used to overcome fear (Dare To Explore: VR Helps You Conquer Your Fears) and treat, more specifically, illness such as ADHD (VR Neurofeedback: A New Drug-free Treatment for Mental Disorders). Yet, owing to interests of many researchers and enterprises who visited the booth, this week’s research review will once again shed light on the effectiveness and future potential of VR therapy.
Virtual Reality cognitive behavioral therapy can promote tobacco cessation
This week’s research (Virtual Reality Behavioral Therapy) explores the development of personalized outpatient cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) by utilizing VR and mobile health technologies. CBT involves a process of changing patients’ unhealthy thoughts, beliefs and actions, increasing more desirable behaviors; however, CBT has traditionally been conducted in real-life settings, for instance, a group therapy session, only. On the contrary, this study takes full advantage of VR and monitors neurophysiological responses during its CBT session to reduce smokers’ tobacco use. Moreover, the study aims to overcome the challenges of reduced treatment effectiveness for outpatients when they have less personal connection to therapists and feel difficult to integrate therapy session into their daily lives.
Before getting immersed into VR, each research participant (a heavy smoker) was asked to wear a VR headset, an EEG monitoring device, and Zephyr Bioharness, which is a non-invasive wireless wearable that is worn around the chest and measures heart rate, skin temperature, and breathing rate. This neurophysiological sensor data allowed the researchers to determine the extent to which different messaging and content influence each subject. Once everything was all set to go, the subject entered a virtual room where he or she went through a virtual group therapy session with different types of avatars. During the session, each avatar presented 90 seconds of pre-scripted, personal experience of smoking. For example:
“Hi my name is John. I’m 54 years old and I smoke to take the edge off when I’m stressed. I worry about keeping my job. And sometimes I wonder if I can really handle everything. Having a smoke just gives me a second to think.”
Each of the avatars was given a distinct persona that is found on different smokers’ characteristics based on their smoking, socio-demographic, and lifestyle information: age, gender, education, income, existing diagnosed medical conditions, duration of smoking, cigarette brands, motives for smoking, etc. In addition, the avatars were created by transferring facial expressions and body movements of human performers to a 3D model prior to the experiment, and the personal messaging by the avatars was also recorded by the human performers.
After the simulation, the subjects reported their subjective experience of the VR therapy session, including verbal description of their emotions, stress-level, and general feelings; smoking urges test; content satisfaction questionnaire. Based on the subjects’ neurophysiological responses and subjective data, the researchers addressed and explored some key questions:
- Do self-reported emotions correlate with the neurophysiological response across the experiment and during specific events?
- Is there a significant change in the neurophysiological response between avatar stories?
- Does the avatar predicted to evoke the peak emotion differ from the actual peak-emotion evoking avatar?
Through the evaluation of the subjects based upon the three questions, the researchers were able to validate the effectiveness of the avatar stories and customize content for a specific smoker. Tailored content and messaging allowed the avatars to more convincingly emulate human behavior and interaction, thus creating very personalized simulation that maximizes the smokers’ emotional response and ultimately promotes tobacco cessation.
Remote and personalized therapy becomes possible
Last week we covered how physiological-data-driven approach to personalized content marketing can bring in a new phase of marketing industry. In a similar manner, this study suggests that VR therapy can also become more effective and individualized through neurophysiological analysis, and, as portable bio-sensing wearables come into wide use, that a large population of outpatients can experience the benefit of a therapeutic environment at the time and location of their choosing. VR plays an instrumental role in digital health as well. VR-based clinical treatment not only offers more room for control — “real-world therapeutic environments include random elements with at least some degree of session-to-session variability” — but also enables a rigorous assessment of treatment response for a wide range of patients without exhausting process. Advances in VR will offer tremendous opportunity for new medical interventions and for better public health messaging, and may in fact represent a major inflection point in clinical adoption of the technology.
Looxid Labs’ LooxidVR flaunted its potential of transforming digital health industry at this year’s CES. The VR headset combined with bio-sensing hardware has a possibility of becoming a major digital health wearable that fulfills both portability and efficacy. Doctors will be able to remotely provide individualized therapy session to outpatients and make exhaustive and accurate evaluation of patient’s illness and recovery based on their neurophysiological responses. In-person therapy might be an obsolete option no longer offered in the future.
LooxidVR pre-orders will start on Feb 1st, 2018. If you want to learn more about LooxidVR and Looxid Labs, feel free to visit our website at www.looxidlabs.com.
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- Virtual Reality Behavioral Therapy | Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 2016 Annual Meeting
- New CES 2018 wearable tech boost your health and wellness | SCMP
- ‘After, I feel ecstatic and emotional’: could virtual reality replace therapy? | The Guardian