By Cheryl de Jong-Lambert and Yvonne Bokhour
About this time last year, Xavier Palomer and his team at Psious, a Barcelona-based technology company that had invented a virtual therapist, submitted an application to the 2014 HITLAB World Cup, a global competition where innovators present original solutions to pressing global healthcare challenges. Psious went on to win an Honorable Mention, one of five finalists to present unique healthcare solutions at the 2014 HITLAB Innovators Summit.
Psious had developed—and has since launched—a revolutionary therapy tool designed to help professional therapists treat patients with anxiety, including phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder. The invention is an audio-visual headset that the patient wears and the therapist controls in order to simulate anxiety-provoking situations. Used in the clinical setting, the headset creates three-dimensional, hyper-realistic environments that ease anxiety through gradual exposure to situations that unnerve them.
Afraid to fly? Spread Your Wings and Overcome It
“Since at least the 1950s, therapists have used exposure therapy to help people overcome their fears,” Palomer explained. “The Psious device brings this time-honored technique to a new level.” In the 10 months since launching the product, 130 therapists have used the tool to help patients overcome fears of flying, public speaking, small spaces, needles, and generalized anxiety disorder.
“Anxiety disorders are complex and can be truly debilitating, affecting millions of people worldwide,” Palomer said. “My goal is to help therapists help their patients overcome their problems with a product that is affordable.” Currently, some 80 therapists from all over the world are renting/have bought the Psious device for use in their clinics.
An Idea is Born, and Nurtured
Like many who apply to the HITLAB World Cup, Palomer is passionate about his field and devoted to positive outcomes. Asked how he became interested in health and technology, Palomer replied, “My background is physics and engineering, but I come from a family very connected to healthcare, so I always wanted to help people deal with health problems. In the end, when you can help people overcome a fear that has plagued them, and you see their gratitude, it is an incredible feeling to have.”
HITLAB is currently accepting applications to the 2015 World Cup competition through October 23. Palomer said the exposure that Psious garnered from the 2014 competition positioned the company at the top of healthcare and innovation. “After the event, everything turned around and we improved significantly our position in the market and the media,” he said, explaining that he had been developing the product for less than two years. “I would say, being part of the five finalists last year made an incredible positive impact in our company.”
Going Mobile Over Obstacles
Palomer believes that cost is the most important challenge facing healthcare today. He said any solution that can reduce expense deserves attention. Toward that end, he puts his faith in mobile answers: “Mobile is my bet. Mobile systems are affordable enough to reduce the costs of healthcare significantly.” By potentially reducing the number of visits a patient makes to a therapist, the Psious device could eventually generate savings over long-term therapy alone.
“For me there are two very interesting trends today in healthcare. One is obviously Virtual Reality (VR), which can have an incredible impact with applications in mental healthcare, physical rehabilitation, and pain distraction,” he said. “VR can become a mainstream solution for most of these problems. The other exciting innovation: genetic solutions. Being able to customize drugs and treatments according to your genes is something incredible and almost magical.”
Applications to the 2015 HITLAB World Cup will be accepted until October 23. For more information or to apply, visit www.hitlabsummit.com.