Tech from Nationwide Children’s Hospital helps those with needle phobia
Going to the hospital for a checkup or treatment can be an anxiety-inducing experience. Even the promise of a lollipop or sticker can’t do much to assuage the fears of patients with needle phobia, a common side effect for many illnesses including hemophilia. For those requiring care involving needles, the hospital can quickly become a place associated with pain and fear, an outlook that can be detrimental to a child’s lifetime of care if they choose to avoid treatment. In fact, even parents can develop severe needle phobia witnessing the distress of their children. Columbus-based Voxel Bay, which was originally developed at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, hopes to help patients adapt to the most severe needle phobia through virtual reality (VR) games that offer the right mix of distraction and fun.
“Needle phobia is a big problem that gets little attention, but the impact can be great. One out of 10 patients suffer from needle phobia and some won’t go to the doctor,” said Jeremy Patterson, co-founder and chief creative technology officer of LittleSeed, Voxel Bay’s parent company after the technology was licensed from Nationwide Children’s. “We started thinking about ways we could make this experience less scary and hopefully stave off needle phobia for not only the patients, but also the parents and the physician. We took a novel approach to incorporating all three of these players into this one treatment scenario to make it a better situation for everyone.”
LittleSeed’s Voxel Bay is the first all-encompassing VR platform for hospitals, and acts as an antidote to the fear and anxiety some patients experience. As children put on Voxel Bay’s character-inspired disposable VR headset, the technology platform’s therapeutic games centered around meditative practices encourage correct breathing during gameplay. The quick, bite-sized games are triggered from a remote viewport, usually a physician’s iPad, where they can control the game’s intensity to amp up the distraction required during almost any needle-based treatment. The device can also be handed off to a parent or sibling to encourage genuine participation and interaction from all involved.
“As a layperson working at Nationwide Children’s it bothered me to see so many children upset because of the treatment they need to receive,” said Patterson. “I knew it didn’t have to be like that — it could be a much different experience, a better experience. With Voxel Bay, children were actually laughing in the hospital and people were gathering at the door to see what was going on. It was striking how VR completely changed the room. When a child did something great, instead of the game saying ‘great job,’ it’s actually everyone in the room saying ‘awesome job, way to go,’ because it was a fun, shared experience for everyone.”
Patterson and his co-founder Jeff Penka have worked in central Ohio for over twenty years, and the relationships they’ve developed have been instrumental in building their product and making it accessible to those with anxiety-inducing treatment. With help from the Technology Validation and Start-up Fund and Rev1 Ventures, both with ties to Ohio Third Frontier, Patterson and Penka were not only able to license their product, but also amplify the technology on a national scale.
“We’ve taken the approach of being an entertainment company first and making authentic fun. It just so happens that our games are played in hospitals; but they are absolutely not ‘hospital games’” said Patterson. “To that end, Columbus has a unique history of media, technology and creative talent. Computer animation was invented here along with so many other innovations. There’s this sense someone rolled up their sleeves and did something they thought was impossible, all through the marriage of creativity and technology. We have so much talent here, and the perfect opportunity to change people’s lives.”