Stumbling VR finds a second home in rehab

Stumbling VR finds a second home in rehab

Virtual reality (VR) has always seemed like an answer looking for a problem. That was never more apparent than in Meta’s recent Metaverse stumble, which cost the company more than two-thirds of its stock valuation at the time of writing. For a technology that has always seemed focused on its potential as a gaming device, it looks like it may be doomed to disappoint. However, with Penumbra’s recent announcement of its virtual reality REAL-y platform, VR may be getting a second wind in the rehabilitation segment alongside video games.

Last Tuesday, Penumbra announced the world’s first completely hands-free and cordless VR rehab solution with full body rehabilitation capabilities. GlobalData estimates that there are approximately 52 million potential rehab patients in the US, meaning VR technology has a large population of patients to adjust to. Furthermore, GlobalData expects the VR market to grow to $80 billion by 2030. If the REAL-y platform is able to prove its usefulness, Penumbra could grab a substantial chunk of this market. But how does it work? Penumbra Executive VP and GM Geeta Barry was quoted as saying: “Two of the biggest challenges in rehabilitation are maintaining patient motivation and a lack of engagement.” It is believed that by ‘gamifying’ therapy, patients are more likely to engage and complete their exercise.

Whether or not this gamble pays off remains to be seen, as there is not yet a fully developed hardware and software ecosystem in the market to support REAL-y systems. However, things look promising; Should the REAL-y system prove that it is capable of addressing the engagement and motivation problems that have plagued the field of physiotherapy, it could start to see a lot more engagement. Another important question is the reimbursement status of these devices. In the US, reimbursement strongly controls whether or not a device is taken by the healthcare industry, as it greatly reduces the cost to the customer. To secure reimbursement, Penumbra must prove the worth of its devices.

However, GlobalData believes that the Penumbra and ‘VR as a rehabilitation tool’ market will receive several headwinds. The proportion of the elderly continues to grow, and with it the need for rehabilitation. Since these patients also tend to be wealthier than their younger counterparts, the rehabilitation industry can expect to see an influx of wealthy patients in the coming decades. Furthermore, the growing acceptance of software and devices as medical devices means that these devices are becoming commonplace. This could increase the FDA’s chances of approving them for reimbursement status, as happened with telehealth devices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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