Dr. Justin Barad, CEO and Founder of Osso VR, sat down with me to explore how VR and gamification are revolutionizing surgical training by providing accurate quantitative assessments and analytics before performing on a patient. We also dived into the adoption and challenges of VR in the medical field and how to inspire strong company culture in a completely remote workplace.
Here is a sneak peek of our conversation:
Q: You had first-hand knowledge in orthopedics and you realize that there’s a much better way of doing this, and then launch this fantastic company. You shared with us what the problem statements were and are, so tell us what your first attempt at this was. Did you immediately think about technology? Were you thinking about the oculus or some VR headset? What were the steps that you approached to create the solution that you have today?
A: I think it’s a really good question. This technology can be used anywhere and its application is so broad and deep within healthcare, it’s kind of a problem in itself. It’s very easy to lose focus because if you try to do everything, you’re not really going to get anywhere. The fact of the matter is that simulation is not new. The idea of “Hey, we should practice in a safe environment, not on people and try to get some objective assessment” has been around for decades as a concept but it hasn’t really taken off in a major way. Why is that? Part of it is that we’ve been reliant on a custom technology that’s very bulky, very expensive, and not very accessible.
At the end of a 30-hour shift, I would be asked to go to a simulation center or to go, practice on a cadaver. I haven’t seen my family in like two days and certainly haven’t slept or eaten anything, usually maybe graham crackers and peanut butter and all of it. I’m not gonna have time or the luxury of going to the simulation lab. That was a whole other issue of the accessibility component. Not to mention more rural areas or low-middle-income countries of course have nowhere close to access a technology like this. That was the last generation of simulators and it also never really turned into a big business either.
We’re now realizing as healthcare professionals that understanding and harnessing the power of a successful business model is very important to distribute new techniques and technology. That’s important as well. The problem was that no one had identified a need to have a value proposition. Basically, for a hospital or academic medical center, a simulator was a sad story. It’s nice to have, it’s a luxury but it’s not going to change the amount of revenue that hospitals are bringing in. It’s probably not gonna affect patient outcomes or the cost of care in a meaningful way with just having one simulator in a building that maybe people use once a year, right?
The first question I asked is where is an existential need? What is the value proposition that will drive demand so high? If you remember in the early days of VR like it was pretty clunky. The technology was amazing but not slick by any means. You needed these towers set up and there was a computer the size of a small toaster that had to power it. It’s not something that was just going to sell itself. You really needed someone that had a problem that was so big that they didn’t care if there was some friction around the experience. To me, that was related to complex surgeries and technologies. What I was seeing time and time again is that a company like Johnson & Johnson or Striker would actually pay to fly me out to Hawaii, Las Vegas, Florida, to practice on their newer technologies like robotics or navigation. I would have the opportunity maybe to try it once or twice on a cadaver or some sort of physical simulation lab and then I would get to use the technology on a patient months later, maybe like four to six months.
Now you’re operating on a patient with the technology used one time, six months ago, that we talked about earlier might have a learning curve of a hundred cases. That’s not going to go very well. It’s so common in the industry that there is an expression for it that’s called “one and done”. Basically, new technology is getting trialed but not adopted because it’s too hard to learn or we’re not getting enough reps in prior to using it on real patients. The perception is “Oh, these technologies are unsafe” or “they’re too difficult to learn” when really we just didn’t have enough training touchpoints. I’m like “Oh well, maybe if we work in partnership with industry on these technologies, we can accelerate that learning curve to drive the adoption of these newer technologies; which are all generally higher value, meaning that they’re lower cost or provide better, more consistent outcomes for patients.”
We had a laser focus on that and especially in the early days, a lot of hospitals and residency programs wanted to partner with us. We’re like “We will get to that but we really need to focus on the highest priority here and that’s really paid off. Now we’re in every space by the way. We did start in orthopedics but we see ourselves as a universal simulation platform; working with all of the so-called major manufacturers within orthopedics and expanding very rapidly. It was a very interesting case study in the challenge of focus, especially when working with the technology that’s as powerful as something like virtual reality.
For more of our discussion, you can watch the whole Fireside Chat with Dr. Justin Barad, or listen to the podcast version, below.
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