oVRcome announces pilot program with NHS for autistic individuals


New Zealand-based virtual reality and cognitive behavioral therapy company oVRcome announced it signed an international contract with the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) to help autistic individuals navigate hospital environments and social interactions.
oVRcome, launched in 2021, utilizes a smartphone and a headset to deliver exposure therapy to adults and children with numerous conditions, including phobias, social anxiety, panic disorder and other ailments. 
Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that helps patients build up their tolerance to their specific phobias through short bursts of exposure. 
The U.K.-based pilot program aims to reduce the appointment cancellation rate among individuals on the autism spectrum by helping them navigate hospital and social settings via oVRcome’s exposure therapy platform. 
The program will immerse autistic individuals in virtual environments, complete with scripted videos showing ways of behaving in social settings so that they can practice navigating these environments and feel more comfortable.  
Up to a hundred individuals will participate in the pilot program, scheduled to begin in August. 
“What we know firsthand is that members of the autistic community experience anxiety around accessing medical services and environments. Often, this anxiety leads to the cancellation of appointments, with many of these being essential to the individual’s health and wellbeing,” Adam Hutchinson, founder of oVRcome, told MobiHealthNews. 
“Our goal is to reduce this anxiety through customized virtual reality exposure therapy co-designed with members of the community. This is accessed via the oVRcome smartphone app, with a clinician being able to connect to the VR session remotely via our clinician portal.”
THE LARGER TREND
In 2022, oVRcome released the results of a randomized, controlled trial performed in the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Otago. The study aimed to reduce the symptoms of common phobias, including a fear of flying, heights, needles, spiders and dogs. 
Based on findings, which were published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, the app-based CBT program alleviated symptoms of phobias by 75% among participants after six weeks of treatment. 
Barbara Rothbaum of Emory University is credited as being the inventor of virtual reality exposure therapy, which is now used by numerous researchers globally, including at Stanford University’s Virtual Reality and Immersive Technology (VR-IT) lab, the Applied Technology for Neuro-Psychology Laboratory (ATN-P Lab) at Istituto Auxologico Italiano, in Italy, and the University of Barcelona.
Another company using VR to teach neurodiverse individuals behavioral, social and life skills is Floreo. It recently received a strategic investment from Cleveland Clinic and acquired Autism EyesTM, an autism-focused diagnostics and assessment company developed by Cleveland Clinic Innovations. 

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