As legislation at the state and federal level seeks to curb opioid prescriptions, providers are keen to find alternatives to such medication that alleviates patient anxiety and chronic pain symptoms but can be addictive.

Virtual reality could very well be that alternative.

Los Angeles-based startup AppliedVR has developed a platform with a library of interactive games and relaxing landscapes to draw users attention away from their pain, reducing dependence on pain medications with Samsung’s virtual reality hardware Gear VR.

Together, Samsung and AppliedVR are working with a group of hospitals to validate the technology for children and adults. In one randomized controlled trial, the two have collaborated with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to evaluate the clinical utility of VR for inpatient pain management and its effect on narcotic use, length of stay, and patient satisfaction. The study is currently recruiting up to 120 hospitalized adults, according to the description on’s website.

Dr. David Rhew, who is Samsung’s chief medical officer and head of healthcare and fitness, noted that virtual reality is commanding respect for its ability to relieve patients’ stress, anxiety, and pain before and after a procedure.

“Clinical findings from Cedars-Sinai and AppliedVR have shown that VR results in a 25 percent reduction in pain, in many cases obviating the need for narcotics, and a 60 percent reduction in stress and anxiety,” he said in a phone interview.

AppliedVR positions its technology as the first VR platform geared for clinical settings. The challenge of designing a product for clinical settings is that the company had to consider many more factors for how the company’s technology could be integrated into and optimized for clinical workflows, Josh Sackman, AppliedVR president, observed in a phone interview.

“You have to think way beyond product development,” Sackman said. Patient profiles, sanitary issues — how can the company resolve this to satisfy epidemiologists? All of these issues come into play.

“The biggest differentiator is the standard of care and getting patients to accept something new, Sackman added.

What’s interesting about AppliedVR’s approach is the diversity of partners and case studies it has amassed so far. The company’s website is peppered with them.

At Buena Vista Ambulatory Surgery Center, a child scheduled for the removal of a tumor from his hand put on the VR headset instead of the usual pre-surgery dose of Versed to reduce anxiety and cause drowsiness. It entertained him and negated the need for the drug, which has side effects that can persist throughout the day.

Although pediatrics is a significant area of interest, underscored by partnerships with Boston Children’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, AppliedVR is working for adult patient applications as well.

At Cedars-Sinai, a woman suffering debilitating abdominal pain from an undiagnosed gastrointestinal malady has not had much relief despite pain meds. Using Applied VR’s tech took her mind off of her pain and improved the patient’s physical state and mood, according to one use case, although it didn’t help the patient’s chronic condition.

Having a committed partner has been critical for the company’s advancement of its the VR platform in clinical settings, Sackman noted.

“It really does take a village to make something like this work. That is why Samsung is so important to us,” Sackman said. “Samsung is one of the only companies in VR to have a chief medical officer.”

Rhew said he’s excited by the potential of VR beyond alleviating anxiety and pain. There are also applications for training and extending the full potential of reading and interpreting medical images to give clinicians views, angles and information they need to make more informed treatment decisions. For instance, U.K.-based Medical Realitieswants to use the power of VR to train doctors even in surgery.

But, potential aside, clinical validation holds the key to the success and adoption of VR.

“Samsung is exploring pilots with other hospitals and healthcare organizations,” Rhew said.”Our hope is that as we continue to validate the clinical utility for VR and the 360-degree VR camera, we will see greater adoption of this technology and improved outcomes.”

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