NewCo Shines Light into Medtech VR at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital

You might not think much tech innovation happens in hospitals, but after spending just 90 minutes with a few nurses and doctors, it became apparent that in order to literally survive in this industry, you must evolve from user to innovator.

As a part of Elevate Toronto, NewCo offered the city a chance to step inside some of the most innovative technology and software companies to see what they have been working on. One of those innovators was The Hospital for Sick Children, also known as SickKids.

The session began with a demonstration of virtual reality led by Dr. Clyde Matava. Dr. Matava is a staff anesthesiologist at SickKids, as well as the director of eLearning and technology at the University of Toronto’s Department of Anesthesia. The line between medical and technology sectors is blurring now, as evolutions in medtech force doctors to become adaptive on the fly.

“I’ve always defined myself as a [medtech] superuser, but that’s transitioned in the last 10 years to become more of an innovator,” explains Dr. Matava. “Seeing the shortcomings current solutions have while seeing the problems that I personally experience drove my interest in both.”

Dr Clyde Matava VS
Dr. Clyde Matava, a virtual reality expert at SickKids

The history of hospitals and VR goes back decades, but it is often far too expensive and cumbersome to be used for multiple kinds of cases or patients. Using this new form of technology was also typically reserved for adults as well. VR came to SickKids about 18 months ago and has seen widespread adoption and research since then.

Multiple studies have been done outlining the positive outcomes VR brings to a hospital environment, especially when that environment focuses on children. One study describes 100 children and 100 parents exposed to VR operation prep as opposed to the normal standard powerpoints and videos. Everyone in the study thought VR was a superior and more meaningful experience, and parents began to suggest that VR is the technology they want to help prep their children for surgery.

“These studies have led us to implement VR across all areas where children need procedures done,” says Dr. Matava. “We use them to prepare for anesthesia, using 360-degree videos. VR is also used to prep for CT scans because it’s a place where children can feel very claustrophobic.”

There is actually an app you can download on Apple’s App Store called ChildLifeVR with all of the current SickKids VR offerings. To administer it, children are given the sturdy yet cheap (and sterile!) cardboard VR goggles to take home and become accustomed to what they may have to endure at the hospital.

Dr. Matava is currently working on VR for MRIs as well, with the tech being built and a study rolling out very shortly. VR can be used for so many different outcomes, it’s a wonder why it wasn’t invented solely for medical purposes.

“I’m involved in about nine studies that use VR,” says Dr. Matava. “Some for pain management in children, some for reducing anxiety in children before procedures, some also even for IV inserts to distract kids when we place it into their arm.”

And that’s just on the patient side of things. Dr. Matava described four total verticals in the VR (and even AR) field: health care, education, clinical and research, two of which are mentioned above and affect patients and parents.

“Next, we have our medical education VR, using a full-scale room we built to train and do advanced procedures,” explains Dr. Matava. “We also have VR for people to learn how to suture patients. Then there’s tool-based VR to create or augment our operating room tools.”

Tool VR is an augmented reality experience using HoloLens to provide a vital and a mapped ultrasound overlaid onto a patient while also using an augmented coach to help with the procedure. Throughout all the VR at SickKids, Dr. Matava mentions HoloLens, Oculus and Vive all being used.

The most impressive bit? These experiences are all crafted and developed in-house at SickKids.

“We have a VR lab, the first of its kind that’s actually based in a hospital,” says Dr. Matava. “It’s in two rooms that are well-equipped to largely develop our own content. We do occasionally engage with industry partners when we need a particular job done though.”

SickKids is continually pushing boundaries when it comes to innovating in the medtech sector, with people like Dr. Matava tapping into their medical education and combining it with their passion for technology. VR is a prime platform that is now cheap enough to finally be used for any kind of patient in any type of hospital.

“VR is one of the few simulated experiences that patients can have on hand and control, feeling they have a bit of agency in their own healthcare,” Dr. Matava says. “For everything in the hospital, they have to come to us. In this case, you can experience it at home.”

Hopefully, you’ll never have to visit SickKids. But know that if you do, VR is there to help you get through it.