When we first heard the concept of the Chronic Solutions application, we knew that was it. That was the project which aligned perfectly with our desire to prove VR as the developing healthcare technology and corresponded both personal and professional experience of our team. Creating an application that would help people to cope with chronic pain and improve their life quality definitely felt like a thing we could do great.
The concept and tasks
The Chronic Solutions story started with Dr. Kravitz — a retired clinical psychologist with 30+ years’ experience in clinical pain management and brain research. A few years ago he saw a video demonstrating Snow World — one of the first virtual reality experiences that was created to help people to cope with acute pain in clinical settings. Being a professional he is, Dr. Kravitz immediately thought of the possibilities to expand the way VR can be applied for pain management.
Chronic Solutions application aimed at making VR more than just an element of pain distraction therapy. The core idea was to create an experience that would provide patients with a tool to both bring on-the-spot pain relief and contribute to developing pain management techniques. Apart from most existing solutions that focus on treating acute pain in a clinical setting using a full PC-connected VR setup, this application was meant to be used by patients at home.
Such a concept required a careful choice of means of delivering the experience to potential users, which became one of the key tasks — to decide on the most appropriate headset to use for this application.
Challenges of the project
The first challenge Chronic Solution encountered while developing the application was to port the prototype they initially created from a PC-connected setup to a standalone\mobile VR headset. The first prototype was meant to prove the concept to work. As it appeared to be so, it was then necessary to translate the existing version to a chosen standalone HMD and refine the application, including product quality and optimization.
The main issue on this stage was to maintain a balance between the quality of the graphics and the efficiency of the performance on a standalone VR headset. The application had to run smoothly as to not interrupt the therapeutical session and not to distract the patient from the experience.
Another challenge was the choice of content and the level of interactivity within the application.
Noah Kravitz, the CEO at Chronic Solutions on the design of the application:
From a design standpoint, deciding what to include and what to leave out of the app is an ongoing challenge. This is true with the design of any product. For us, we designed the app to follow a narrative originally written to be spoken by a clinical practitioner for the patient to listen to and imagine in their head. Translating this to VR included the challenge of designing interactions for the user to experience.
Since ours is a health/therapeutic tool, and not an entertainment app, we needed to design with the most novice of VR users in mind, including people experiencing pain and other physical limitations. This meant paying careful consideration to striking a balance between engaging but not too difficult, easy to use but not boring, immersive but not overwhelming, and so on.
The immersive power of virtual reality
Virtual reality changes the healthcare we have today. It is applied in therapy, medical training, establishing diagnosis and the number of clinics adopting the technology is growing every day. By 2024 healthcare is expected to become a key consumer in the global VR/AR market, according to Transparency Market Research.
Mental health sector and particularly pain management is a perfect match with what virtual reality has to suggest today. With the rapid growth of immersive technologies as well as accompanying solutions, medical professionals and caregivers received an efficient tool to apply proven therapeutic techniques in a new innovative way.
The immersive properties of VR are well-suited to encouraging guided focus, which is key to our therapeutic approach. The basic psychological concepts we’re building on have been proven successful when delivered via biofeedback, neurofeedback, and other technologies. VR is a cutting edge technology that offers great potential to reach more people via new applications of these same research-proven techniques.Dr. Kravitz, Chronic Solutions
Oculus Go was the choice perfect for this project. The headset met all the main requirements set up for the project:
• mobility. Being a standalone HMD, it doesn’t anchor the user to a certain location and allows using the application both in clinical and home environments;
• ease of use. The setup process for Oculus Go doesn’t require many actions and can be done in a matter of minutes. Absence of wires adds to it makes the user experience simple enough even for those who try virtual experience for the first time;
• quality. In spite of being a standalone headset, Oculus Go has enough capacity to deliver visuals quality enough for the given purpose.
When it came to the engine choice, Unity was an obvious one for a set of reason. One of the demands for the application was to build a structure that allowed changing the settings in the visual editor without the necessity to alter the code. This was important so to give a technical specialist in Chronic Solutions an opportunity to correct the narrative as it continues to develop with minimal effort. As long as they were familiar with Unity, it was decided to use this engine.
As for the content itself, it was carefully designed to achieve the maximum therapeutical effect. Based on many years of Dr. Kravitz’ clinical experience as well as deep understanding of the application purpose, we came up with technical solutions that complemented the initial idea.
The therapeutical effect of the application was enhanced by choosing the right pace and creating the right atmosphere of the experience. The experience was being reworked again and again to be as native as possible for the given aim. This was achieved by introducing a few interactive elements that do not break the session into several segments but serve as a meaningful contribution to it. To immerse the user into the experience, the interactive elements were designed in a way to show the interaction but not to distract from the narration. For example, to enable a smooth transition between locations, there was added a fade-in fade-out scene with the sound of steps in the background.
The graphics within the application was designed to create a proper context for the narration. While quality and vivid, it was not overwhelming and left enough room for the patients to use their imagination and concentrate on their senses rather than the image.
In business-parlance, this is our minimum viable product (MVP). It’s really more sophisticated than an MVP, but it serves that purpose: as I write this, we have just started testing the app as part of a trial protocol to determine if we’re “on to something” with our approach. This app was never meant to be a market-ready solution, but rather a significant first step along our R&D journey towards market readiness. That said, we also needed this version of the app to be of high enough quality to engage users and encourage/motivate them to practice regularly with it on their own as part of our test protocol.Dr. Kravitz, Chronic Solutions
We at VR Tigers are proud to be a part of such a significant project that can change people’s lives for the best and be the next step in the healthcare industry development.
How do you like the article?