GuideWell Using Virtual Reality to Help People Improve their Health

Wearing a headset and using a joystick, Cynthia Schroeder appears to be playing a video game, but what the retired, stay-at-home mom is really doing is taking part in a Virtual Reality (VR) program designed to help her with stress and anxiety.

In the past, she says she’s talked with her physician about treatment but was hesitant to try medication.

“I just exercise now and try to do things natural,” Schroeder said.

But natural methods aren’t always enough to keep Schroeder’s stress at bay. That’s why she was ecstatic to be one of about two dozen invited to take part in a VR pilot through Florida Blue, GuideWell’s health insurance subsidiary.

GuideWell kicked off the pilot in early November by inviting participants to an orientation. During the session, the GuideWell Enterprise Strategy and Innovation team introduced participants to the VR concept and provided instructions on how to use the Oculus Go headset and equipment.

Afterwards, participants went home with the equipment preloaded with software applications designed by XR Health, the first certified immersive medical VR company in the world.

Anupam Vats, senior director of product innovation for GuideWell, said the idea behind the pilot goes back to GuideWell’s mission—to help people and communities achieve better health.

“We realize that VR is one way where we can bring health care to people’s homes so they can use new technologies to improve their life and their care,” he said.

Participants were encouraged to use the software and headset four times a week for two weeks. The study was designed to gather feedback about using VR for health, measure whether VR would help with adherence to a care plan and possibly serve as a remedy for pain, mobility or, in Schroeder’s case, stress and anxiety.

“Once I used the VR headset, it made such a difference for me,” Schroeder added. “It gave me my own thing to do and it was really an experience that I had never experienced before, and I really liked it.”

Through the headset, Schroeder was placed into an immersive 3D virtual environment. The software application led her though guided meditation and breathing techniques accompanied by relaxing nature sounds and therapeutic music. She says she used the equipment almost daily and saw improvements in her stress levels in just two weeks.

“Each day I really looked forward to doing my session,” she said. “I noticed I was very, very relaxed and a couple of times, I actually fell asleep because I was so relaxed.”

Neck Pain and Mobility

Other users in the pilot experimented with VR to increase their mobility and decrease their pain through range of motion exercises.

Greg Jeffords had been suffering from neck pain and mobility issues for a long time, but had never found something that alleviated his pain, until he went through the VR pilot.

“I’ve tried pillows, I’ve tried a neck hammock and honestly, I have the least amount of neck pain now than I’ve had in about two or three months,” he said. “It pushed you every day and it made you want to go farther every time you got on it … and go to the next level.”

Using Innovation to Improve Health

VR is one example of how GuideWell is using innovation and technology to support customers outside of a traditional health care setting. Vats says it’s a way to collaborate with customers.

“At the end of the day, we are building solutions for (our members) and we wanted to bring them in so we could build with them to improve their experience and their care journey,” he said.

The VR pilot is the first project GuideWell is putting through the Health Solutions Lab, which was created as a way to test technology, products or business models before implementing them across the enterprise.

“It brings the customer into focus and helps us come up with new ideas, test them, learn from them and improve as an organization,” Vats said.

The feedback from the VR pilot was extremely positive and the team is now discussing other ways VR can be used for health. And, for Jeffords and Schroeder, this is also just the beginning. They both plan to incorporate VR into their regular routines to improve their overall health.

“It took me a day to get used to it but now I’m hooked, I really like it,” said Schroeder. “You put the headset on and boom, I’m in another world.”

About the Author

Ilyssa Drumm

GuideWell Social Media and Media Relations Consultant