It's an unfortunate reality. Everyone either has been, or knows someone who has been affected by cancer or another serious illness. Most of us can relate to the hardships of watching a loved one suffer from the emotional ups and downs of this difficult journey. However, if entrepreneur Diane Jooris has anything to do with it, there may be a way to lessen the pain. Based on new research into the healing power of virtual reality, her company, Oncomfort, is designed to help alleviate the anxieties of medical procedures and treatments.
According to CNN, "immersive virtual reality systems are starting to be developed for use by patients during painful procedures, such as dental procedures or changing burns dressings. Addiction in the digital age. The idea is that by placing oneself in this highly immersive virtual world, we are distracted from the painful experience."
Jooris is a wife and a mother of three with a master's degree in clinical psychology and a specialization in hypnosis. Jooris is also a forward-thinking health entrepreneur who is looking to technology to help ease the pain of long-term care.
“I've always been extremely impressed by the impacts that the mind can have on the body and what we can do only by turning our thoughts and our minds in a different direction," she says.
“We won't close the door for anyone… we are there for everybody."
Jooris has been working with medical patients as a volunteer, mental health professional and researcher for the past twenty years. In the last four years she has been working as a specialist at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. It was also four years ago that Jooris' sister was diagnosed with cancer.
Soon Jooris witnessed first-hand the exhaustion and physiological effects of cancer treatment, which when combined make it difficult for patients to get the emotional support they need. It was then that the idea of Oncomfort was first born.
Through her specialties in hypnosis, Jooris knew the effect that the hypnosis techniques can have on patients. Unfortunately, that is quite often too limited for patients such as Jooris' sister who aren't able to get to a doctor's office. After experimenting with hypnosis audio recordings, Jooris realized that there needed to be another component--virtual reality.“You need to have something that compensates and counterbalances [a real live person]."
With virtual reality, the patient is fully immersed into a situation that is removed from whatever procedure they are going through. The main goal is to put the patient through a state of disassociation through a “different" environment. While listening solely to an audio, 15% of people don't have the skills to come up with a visual on their own, which is why the virtual reality itself is so important.
While in Houston, Jooris was introduced to Joowon Kim, a previous founder of virtual reality game company. Together, the two identified the needs of both doctors and patients, and then created a prototype to ship to doctors in different countries. After receiving feedback from the doctors, they adapted the prototype to try on patients, where they received even more feedback. It's this ongoing process that keeps the product thoroughly improving.
“Passion is major, and if you have a vision, and your main goal is genuine… I think you are able to make things happen."
Jooris says that she was with one patient who was smiling while on the operating table, and the patient said, “This is wonderful--I'm swimming with dolphins!" The limits of virtual reality are essentially endless. Without any invasive procedures or medications, these people are able to be both pain and anxiety free. Even though there is a lot of competition in the field, Oncomfort is the only product running in five different languages, offering opportunities for global use.
"Beyond studies of distraction, we are also starting to see other examples of how virtual reality could be used, and even incorporated into cognitive behavioral approaches to chronic pain management," according to CNN. "For example, virtual games have been used as a means of delivering exposure-based behavioral treatments for pain, in which a patient is placed in different virtual situations that they might otherwise avoid."
Starting a company is not easy work, especially one so heavily involved with both scientific and psychological research. Jooris says that you have to be part human and part octopus for such a task. You must have arms everywhere--you need to be able to handle finances, go through legal contracts, find voices, take part of competitions, and so much more because you want to be able to grow your company; and that is exactly what Jooris is doing.
Jooris and Kim are hoping that within six more months, the company and product will be more widely distributed throughout multiple countries and more well known. Oncomfort isn't only limited to oncology patients, either. The goal is to have it available for anyone who needs it, whether it be through other medical procedures or even dealing with regular stress.
And her final advice for everybody? Stay motivated. Choose your battles, and know your priorities--the rest will come afterwards.
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