Virtual reality (VR) company Mieron Inc. was founded in 2015 when its founders watched the value of the technology play out in front of their eyes by helping a 5-year-old girl recover from a traumatic spinal injury.
Several years later, those founders are beginning to find out the value of VR in home-based care.
Long Beach, California-based Mieron is a VR company that focuses on neurorecovery, physical therapy, occupational therapy and locomotor training. The company takes a holistic approach to rehabilitation, using VR as a non-invasive tool to help patients with mobility issues and their overall quality of life.
Over the past few months, COVID-19 has vastly increased the usage of telehealth — and VR is another form of technology that can help patients stay healthier while mostly staying at home. Once that became evident to Mieron co-founder and President Jessica Maslin, the company began taking a different approach in its business plan.
“COVID-19 has really, really changed the way that we look at home health care,” Maslin told Home Health Care News. “If people can have this technology available to them at home and be able to share the results with their practitioners, be able to celebrate milestones together and be able to improve their mobility instead of wasting away at home, then that’s a huge opportunity for us, for health care providers and for the people who need the continued care and treatment.”
Generally, VR technology creates a computer-generated environment that allows users to immerse themselves in a virtual world, usually using a headset to facilitate the experience. Part of what makes it particularly useful in health care is its ability to get patients past self-imposed limits.
What makes it valuable in home-based care specifically is that the experience can take place anywhere, though a medical professional is usually present at first.
“Patients’ self-imposed limitations — they go out the door with [our VR],” Maslin said.
“So they’re able to do more than what they think they can. Their pain perception is low. They’re not thinking about the pain of the exercise. They’re thinking about accomplishing the task.”
When people go above and beyond their supposed limits at the gym, for instance, they’ll see their strength and stamina improve. Similarly, when VR sheds patients of their perceived limitations through the immersive experience, it allows them to stretch their capabilities in the short-term and reduce the physical and mental impact of their disability in the long-term.
Mieron used to exclusively offer its products to health care providers. It was a way to maintain supervision and make sure that the company was seeing the results it wanted to with patients early on.
But after it became more popular and the results were satisfactory, there was such demand for an at-home product that the company released one in January of this year. In retrospect, the launch date ended up being perfect timing.
The product is dubbed the “Mieron GO” and is listed at $999 on Mieron’s website. Within that price, a step-by-step video curriculum is included as well as a wireless headset and other necessary tools.
“We were constantly adding new experiences based on health care providers wants, needs and feedback,” Maslin said. “We took that library and just adjusted it so that it would be more appropriate for someone using it at home and for people that may be using it by themselves.”
While Maslin didn’t share specific numbers, she did say the company has seen demand far higher than what they could’ve expected upon initially launching Mieron GO.
Although the company hasn’t yet partnered with any home-based care providers, they’re interested in doing so.
Patients can harness the VR technology during the COVID-19 crisis when they’ve been encouraged to stay at home. But it also allows them to continue making improvements after their insurance stops covering rehab visits.
When telehealth initiatives were bolstered as a result of the CARES Act in late-March, it opened an avenue of opportunity for Mieron. Practitioners were telling Mieron’s leadership team that they worried about their often high-risk clients and that they needed to safely keep them out of the rehab facilities during COVID-19 without risking additional injury.
“So we really took a huge initiative not only to get our at-home products out there, [not just so] our clients could stay safely at home, but also to effectively help telehealth be a better experience, to have a higher retention rate and better outcomes for patients,” Maslin said
An additional tailwind for Meiron’s business model after COVID-19 could be the complex rehab that’s sometimes required for patients who are affected more drastically by the virus. COVID-19 sometimes causes subsequent conditions that need to be dealt with, such as impaired lung function, physical deconditioning, muscle weakness and cognitive impairments, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).