Geisinger Health System — known as one of the most innovative and home-focused health systems in the country — is testing out a new way of easing chronic pain. 

As a means to engage with patients and better manage their pain in the home, Geisinger is teaming up with AppliedVR, a Los Angeles-based company pioneering the concept of virtual reality therapeutics, sometimes referred to as VRx. Through the collaboration, Geisinger will use AppliedVR’s platform — goggles, headsets and all — to create an immersive experience that helps people overcome their discomfort and rely less on potentially dangerous painkillers.

The effort is spearheaded by Geisinger’s Steele Institute for Health Innovation, the health system’s cutting-edge innovation center founded in 2018.

“A lot of our work is focused on solving problems,” Emily LaFeir, senior director of operations for the Steele Institute, told Home Health Care News. “We don’t focus on the technology. We look at the problem, then find the technology or a solution that helps solve that problem.”

Founded more than 100 years ago, Geisinger is a regional health care provider with operations across parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It has 11 hospital campuses, plus a 560,000-member health plan, two research centers, a nursing school and the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.

Among its areas of focus, the Steele Institute and its 240 employees explore ways of using technology to improve health care and the overall wellness of Geisinger’s communities. The innovation hub also looks at ways of transforming health care payment models, LaFeir noted.

“Geisinger has a longstanding reputation for innovation,” she said. “There has been innovation throughout our history, but we wanted to build a hub for people to harness different skill sets and build scalable models with quantifiable outcomes.”

Geisinger is gearing up to go live with its VRx program in September. It had been hoping to launch the eight-week pain-management intervention sooner, but plans were delayed due to the ongoing public health crisis.

“This is a way to engage patients in a different way,” LaFeir said. “It’s also a way to … reduce the need for prescription drugs and specialize in a different form of pain management.”

On its end, AppliedVR works with more than 200 hospitals to provide VRx aimed at alleviating patients’ acute pain. Apart from Geisinger, AppliedVR is also actively working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Cleveland Clinic.

Through AppliedVR’s technology, users can play games or picture themselves in unique experiences — like swimming with dolphins.

While doing so, AppliedVR helps patients learn evidenced-based pain-management skills and mindfulness strategies. 

It’s all about giving users the tools they need to have a better quality of life, according to co-founder and CEO Matthew Stoudt, who helped launch AppliedVR in 2015.

“Historically, [society] has tried to address pain with focusing just on that biological aspect of it, using pharmacological tools to try to help abate the pain,” Stoudt told HHCN. “We wanted to take a more holistic approach to this and address not only the biological side of it, but also the psychosocial side.”

In a recently published study appearing in JMIR Formative Research, AppliedVR’s platform was found to lower participants’ chronic pain anywhere from 30% to 50%. More than six dozen people with chronic lower-back or fibromyalgia pain participated in the study.

After demonstrating the success of its model with those results, the next step for AppliedVR has been making its technology as user-friendly as possible.

That’s the key to home-based care, Stoudt said.

“It’s always been our vision that we wanted to ultimately be able to bring this powerful new modality into the home,” he said.

For Geisinger, using VRx just adds to its home-based care efforts.

The health system launched Geisinger at Home — a team-based program that brings complex care into patients’ homes — several years ago. Among its benefits, the program has been found to lower emergency department visits and hospital admissions by 35% and 40%, respectively. 

Additionally, Geisinger has a joint venture partnership with Lafayette, Louisiana-based LHC Group Inc. (Nasdaq: LHCG) in a number of its home health and hospice locations.

Geisinger will continue exploring new ways of shifting care into the home moving forward, especially in light of the COVID-19 virus, LaFeir said.

“Geisinger has been very proactive. Even pre-COVID, we’ve had programs like Geisinger at Home and have had really robust home health programs to allow for [in-home] interventions,” she added. “But we need to start getting even more creative to engage our population.”

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