Using virtual reality to help avoid medical errors | The Jewish Star


By Brian Blum

What’s responsible for some 400,000 deaths a year and $37 billion in financial losses in the United States alone?

It’s not Covid, cancer or opioids. Rather, it’s errors made by physicians, medical residents, nurses and surgeons in the ICU and ER.

To combat this all too human and often avoidable toll, Israeli startup Decide VR has rolled out a decision support system based on virtual reality (the “VR” in the company’s name).

The software product was developed by Prof. Alex Mintz, director of the Computerized Decision-Making Lab at Reichman University (formerly IDC) in Herzliya. It’s now being trialed at nine hospitals around the world, including Hadassah, Beilinson and Assuta medical centers in Israel. They are collaborating with DecideVR to develop new scenarios to program.

Mintz, who spent 18 years in the United States teaching at various institutions of higher education, returned to Israel in 2007 to become dean (and ultimately provost) at Reichman and recently started DecideVR, which has hired PhD students and researchers from America and Israel.

Mintz’s initial product was intended to be text- and visual-based, running on a standard computer or tablet. But a meeting with Prof. Nir Keren of Iowa State University changed all that.

Keren is a VR expert who has built simulators for NASA to train astronauts headed to the International Space Station. Keren, who serves as a senior adviser to the company, helped refocus DecideVR on the virtual side of the equation.

To use DecideVR, users strap on any off-the-shelf VR equipment, such as headsets from Meta-owned Oculus. Alternatively, they can run the program on a computer rather than through VR goggles.

Users are presented with various realistic scenarios in the ICU or ER. The simulation is populated by doctors, nurses and other hospital staff, as well as beds and medical equipment. Patients in the simulations are programmed with their own problems and personalities. Users must then decide what to do when presented with a trauma or emergency.

Not every scenario is so intense. A team of residents making its rounds and checking in with virtual patients is an example of a less high-stakes simulation.

The software provides immediate feedback, either once the simulation is concluded or, if requested, during the simulation in real time.

The software is designed to uncover unconscious biases and to strengthen how users make decisions. The results can also be sent as an executive summary to hospital administrators and department heads.

DecideVR’s first specialty to simulate is cardiology in the ICU. After that, Mintz hopes to expand to cover general ICU issues, followed by oncology, maternity and more.

DecideVR will soon offer more than 50 VR scenarios for ICUs, Mintz notes.

For DecideVR to take off, creating an ecosystem of other medical VR companies will play a key role, and Mintz is in the process of establishing a Medical VR Forum and global roundtable with international experts.

DecideVR software could be helpful in planning non-medical decision-making too; Mintz says he’s had conversations with Israel’s National Fire and Rescue Authority. Anything from department stores to banks could benefit.

But as with any startup, focus is critical when you’re getting started. And there’s plenty to do for now in the medical space, especially for a bootstrapped 10-person company.

“We only incorporated the company four months ago,” Mintz points out, although the decision engine logic has been in development by Mintz for nearly a decade.

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