The task that these people have to fulfill in physiotherapy does not have to seem difficult at all. In fact, it can have a more relaxing effect on most people. If people with virtual glasses look up, in places where others can’t see, there is a tree in front of them, from which they can pluck, for example, an apple and put it in a basket, which again only they can see. It’s part of the treatment.
Plucking an apple means that they reach out and make a few movements with their wrist and fingers that normally don’t require a lot of focus, but actually require quite a bit of multi-muscle coordination and joint engagement. For some, for example after an injury, it is a common painful experience. Or even impossible.
Not here. In virtual reality, people easily forget that they can’t do something. “We completely detach a person from the physical world and from physical problems. The limits that people had are breaking down. It usually happens to us that if someone tells us they can’t do something, they don’t have a problem with it in the virtual world. People here don’t perceive their physicality,” explains Konstantin Novikov.
He is the creator of the idea and CEO of the VR Medical project, which has already interestingly expanded virtual reality for the needs of physiotherapy in the Czech Republic to doctor’s offices, neurological clinics and rehabilitation facilities. For example, it cooperates with the Pilsen Faculty Hospital, the General Faculty Hospital in Prague, Janské Lázně or the rehabilitation institute in Kladruby. In total, there are 16 different organizations where he has already applied.
VR Medical can help with orthopedic patients, those are the ones who have the task of reaching for the fruits of the trees. Others deal with a neurological problem: patients after a stroke, with multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy. Their task may be to move individual finger joints or to experience a simulated reality that will allow them to orient themselves in space and complete other assignments along the way.
Photo: VR Medical
Physiotherapists see on the tablet what patients see in front of them
The company has managed to train a total of 80 physiotherapists. More than 500 patients have met her product so far. In recent months, the company has reached a stage where it has moved from trials to real operation and has also begun to stir up the commercial potential of the product. “The hardest thing is to have the first paying customer,” smiles Novikov. The team has proven that they are here. That organizations are willing to pay for such a service. Today, the company aims for revenues that are counted in the millions.
Abstract spaces and carrots in the kitchen
The virtual environment can be completely ordinary. It is possible to simply be somewhere in the living room and clean vegetables or perhaps clean glasses. Or chopping wood in the backyard. “Specifically, for example, stroke patients want to go back to what they were doing before. They like it,” explains Novikov.
Then there is a group of people who have had some kind of degenerative neurological disorder since childhood, so they didn’t have the opportunity to travel. “It’s much more interesting for them to see places like islands and beaches that they can’t get to in normal life,” adds Novikov. But it is also possible to experience a somewhat atypical environment. A room without corners. Colorful abstract spaces. Something that seems to have come from outside our world. Such an environment should give rise to the feeling that we have something to discover.
It is something more than classic physiotherapy, where an expert teaches people to exercise or move individual parts of the body. “We may have suggested that we cannot put our hand to some level. Or spread your fingers. But when we find ourselves in a world that has no barriers, we divert the feeling of pain. People focus on their task and can perform better than when exercising. It is a concept that is repeated in various diagnoses and their combinations. Some relation to the physical world is always there.” describing.
For example, when in virtual reality the local experts practiced with patients who could not stand upright on their feet for more than two minutes, they were able to stand for more than 15 minutes in the world with glasses on their heads. People who have been placed in medical or social facilities for a long time, who have lost motivation to move and have been lying in bed for a long time, suddenly got up with glasses and started to explore the world around them. They couldn’t believe the length of their first stand. And the VR Medical staff had to record them to show them that they could do something like that. Others, on the other hand, were not even aware of the fact that they had stood up.
Photo: VR Medical
In the Czech Republic, VR exercises have already reached a number of devices
The company is built on software. More than two dozen people participate in VR Medical, and developers and programmers are the most represented here. But an important moment is also the fact that the glasses used by VR Medical have a camera system, thanks to which the user can see his own hands. I mean, the real ones. It’s not like he’s moving the controllers and seeing only a virtual representation of them in the unreal world. The glasses can do this with details down to tenths of a millimeter, and they also show movements in real time.
Then there is working with patient data. These are saved for later evaluation. So experts see exactly what was done, with what success and how people did. “Virtual reality is already relatively well known. It’s a concept that feels nice. And everyone who puts on glasses for the first time loves it. But to make it a functional tool, there are many more aspects to it. We are not talking about one application. But about the ecosystem. It is not for one thing that would be used for five minutes. We need her to be able to work with different kinds of patients and with different problems,” describes Novikov.
We are realists
The director of the company believes that if the company really kicks off its activities, it will grow even faster. He imagines that by the end of this year, local virtual reality will be available in more than 30 organizations and 150 physical therapists. And the number of patients who will undergo it will exceed 1500.
By the end of 2024, the company intends to exceed 100 million crowns in sales. Expansion into Germany and Great Britain should help with this. The company has certification from the Czech State Institute for Drug Control, which is also valid in these countries. And, in addition, support for a program that is part of the British National Health Service. But he is also looking at other markets.
The long-term goal is to expand into the United States. But for that we need, among other things, a valid certification there. “We’re talking about interesting technology and a lot of people are excited about it, but we’re being realistic about it. We know what we have to accomplish in order to function in the long term,” emphasizes Novikov.