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Startup Looks for Its Own Lane With Hands-Free VR Therapy


The newly-announced Bella system uses gaze-based VR, which allows patients to ditch the controller and simply look around.

mhealth, mobile health, population health, healthcare VR, VR pain management, bella VR pain management, hcanews

Kansas City-based technology firm Northpass Immersive announced a new virtual reality (VR) platform, Bella, for patients with anxiety and pain.

VR tech is considered a potentially useful non-pharmacological approach to managing pain. Immersive sensory experiences can be used to keep patients from fixating on chronic pain symptoms, thus exacerbating them. A 2017 study from Cedars-Sinai found that 20 minutes of VR therapy produced a 24% drop in patient-reported pain symptoms in a clinical setting.

Because of the potential, various startups have emerged in the healthcare VR space, like Firsthand Technology and Applied VR. Northpass Immersive hopes a number of features in its systems will help differentiate it from the pack.

Most VR technology currently requires users to navigate through an external controller. The newly-announced Bella system uses gaze-based VR, which allows the user to simply look at what they want to focus on.

"We were determined to eliminate the controller, because if you hit a wrong button and you can't see the remote it causes lots of problems and frustrations," Northpass Immersive co-founder and president Reid Bangert said in a statement.

The system also uses auto-horizon adjust, allowing users the same experience regardless of whether they are standing, sitting at an angle, or lying on their side.

The company also built the system with hospital settings in mind: Its entire surface, including padding, is non-porous, making it easier to sanitize for repeated use. Northpass says it has already garnered interest from pre-op, ER, and oncology units.

"For us it was all about going beyond the hospital walls. If we could transport a patient to Banff National Park or a beautiful beach in the Caribbean, we could make the entire healthcare experience a more positive and engaging one," company cofounder and CEO Kurt Bangert said in the statement.

The system (pictured above) consists of a headset, headphones, and a Samsung smartphone. Its simulations include a hot air balloon ride, a quartet concert, and a trip through the Canadian Rockies.

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