Jeff Thiel

Investor and Entrepreneur

I used to think VR was just for gaming – something I don’t know much about. Then I was presented with an opportunity to invest in AxonVR. As I did my due diligence, it became clear that what AxonVR is working on will improve healthcare – something I am, unfortunately, very familiar with. My familiarity begins with my experience as a patient with more than a decade of chronic, disabling health problems. I’ve also worked as an entrepreneur starting a healthcare services company. 

After reviewing reams of research papers, and talking to multiple experts, I am excited about the possibilities for AxonVR’s HaptX technology in healthcare. Here are just a few examples.

Medical Training Simulations

Medical procedure simulation is an established, billion-dollar market. A simulation lab is a highly effective teaching tool for medical schools. We can all agree that it is far better for your surgeon to practice a procedure many times in a simulator before practicing on a patient in the operating room. But, prior to HaptX, surgery simulators have been limited by the difficulty of simulating tactile feedback.

Medical simulations need dimensions of touch, force feedback, and high fidelity motion tracking to feel like the real thing. AxonVR brings these dimensions to the virtual operating table. Imagine being able to virtually palpate tissues or organs with a finger or a surgical tool to assess their condition and consider what to do next. Imagine the power of the teaching moment when a student virtually feels the warmth of blood quickly pooling due to a mistake with a surgical instrument.

The CDC estimates that stroke costs the US $34 billion annually. This figure includes the cost of healthcare and missed days of work.

The CDC estimates that stroke costs the US $34 billion annually. This figure includes the cost of healthcare and missed days of work.

Stroke Rehabilitation

There are over 795,000 cases of stroke each year in the US alone, and stroke survivors often require intensive, prolonged, and expensive rehabilitation treatment. Most suffer hemiparesis – motor deficits –  in an arm or leg or both. Somatosensory deficits – loss of sensations like pressure, pain, temperature – are common.

Fortunately, brain science has demonstrated that these deficits can be overcome to some degree due to neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. But patients must practice specific movements many times each day for months to recover the ability to perform even simple movements we all take for granted. Daily practice at home is monotonous, and physical therapists can’t be present daily in the home to adjust incorrect movements, ensure compliance, or gauge progress.

Virtual reality experiences incorporating tactile feedback can make daily practice more engaging for stroke victims, and simulate the guided movement that therapists deliver in the clinic. Therapists collect accurate data on patient progress, insurers get justification to cover continued treatment, and patients actually enjoy their rehabilitation practice. Everyone wins.

Phobia Treatment

Millions of people have their lives disrupted due to phobias – the overwhelming fear of spiders, snakes, dogs, elevators, heights, airplanes, public speaking, public places, and more.  Today, therapists treat patients by guiding them through exercises imagining the object of their fear, eventually working up to exposure to the actual object of their fear.

With HaptX technology, the arachnophobic patient can virtually feel a spider crawling up their arm, or patients with ophiophobia can virtually hold a writhing snake in their hands, while the therapist carefully monitors their reaction in the safety and privacy of the practitioner’s office. More effective than a thought exercise, and much more practical than bringing spiders and snakes into the office.

A Future that Feels Healthy

These health conditions are just a few examples, based on published research in growing field of virtual reality for healthcare. AxonVR’s HaptX technology has more uses in patient care, including improving balance, joint surgery rehabilitation, and acute pain management.  There are numerous possibilities today, and many more waiting to be discovered. 

The same attributes that make VR exciting to the gaming industry make it just as exciting for the healthcare industry. The more realistic the simulation, the better the game. And the better the health outcome.

Jeff Thiel is an experienced executive and mission-driven entrepreneur who has built and launched new products and services in industries ranging from PC software to financial services, health care, and K-12 education. He is the CEO of Metria Learning, a provider of online tools that enables educators to collaborate to deliver rigorous, data-driven, personalized instruction in K-12 schools. Jeff is passionate about improving education and our healthcare system.