Traditional rehab services are used by millions of people annually who suffer disability from strokes and other neurological conditions. Traditionally, rehab is typically administered by physical and occupational therapists who try to help patients recover as much function as possible. This week at the American Physical Therapy Association's annual conference for 35,000 professionals, global medical device company Penumbra, Inc., announced the commercial availability of their REAL Immersive System, a portable virtual reality-based system to engage patients with rehab.
In 2017, Penumbra teamed up with Sixense Enterprises, the San Francisco company specializing in enterprise use of VR hardware and software, to build the REAL Immersive System. The system consists head-mounted VR display supplied by HTC, sensors, and other accessories. The sensors are equipped with mechanical and electrical components that measure motion and direction in physical space and translate the information into a virtual environment. The entire system is controlled via a clinical tablet.
The REAL Immersive System received FDA clearance in March 2019, and as of January 2020, physicians and therapists are using the system.
Virtual reality-based physical therapy services, such as those provided by Virtualis, BehaVR, and now Penumbra, provide a cost-effective way to prevent short-term disabilities from becoming chronic conditions, to help avoid invasive procedures, to speed recovery from surgery and musculoskeletal injuries and to eliminate or minimize the need for opioids. The market opportunity for virtual reality-based physical therapy services is large, but highly fragmented with an estimated 40,000 outpatient clinics in the US providing some combination of physical therapy or other rehab therapy services.