Not so far in the future, your doctor might prescribe playing a few games in virtual reality to ease aches and pains, rather than popping a pill. That’s Matthew Stoudt’s hope, anyway. He’s the CEO of AppliedVR, a startup that’s building a library of VR content for alleviating pain and anxiety before, during, and after medical procedures. The company is working with hospitals and doctors to get patients using the technology on Samsung’s Gear VR headset and to study its effectiveness as well.
Virtual reality has long been studied for its potential to ease pain by serving as a distracting force during medical procedures like wound care sessions for burn victims. Yet typically the equipment needed to bring virtual reality into hospitals (or anywhere else, for that matter) has been extremely pricey: Hunter Hoffman, director of the virtual reality research center at the University of Washington’s Human Photonics Laboratory and a developer of a pain control game called SnowWorld, says the VR equipment he’s using as part of an intensive care unit pain-relief study costs $35,000.
With cheaper headsets like Samsung’s Gear VR, Oculus’s Rift, and HTC’s Vive now on the market, though, it’s a lot easier for hospitals and doctors to consider using them for their patients, and a number of startups including AppliedVR see a business opportunity. AppliedVR sells its service—the VR content plus a Gear VR headset—to customers for far more than the $100 you’d pay for a Gear VR plus the price of a compatible high-end Samsung smartphone, but still much less than VR devices have cost in the past.