TOMMI: transform therapy into a game with virtual reality
10 July 2018 | Written by La redazione
Virtual reality can also be used in the medical field to offer support to patients, from the youngest to adults, and help them cope with the disease. The start-up TOMMI operates in this sector and has already started to collaborate with some Italian and international hospitals. We met Valentino Megale, CEO and Co-founder of the company, at the Web Marketing Festival and we interviewed him.
The combination of medicine and new technologies has allowed significant steps forward in the treatment and therapeutic approach of various diseases. Robotics has offered incredible precision instruments to surgery, artificial intelligence is increasingly revolutionizing the diagnostic system and studies and research in genetics and genomics are leading us towards an increasingly personalized medicine. But also virtual reality offers numerous opportunities for the “health” sector: it is precisely in this area that TOMMI operates, a startup that offers therapeutic support to patients through VR both to help them accept the disease and to alleviate their pain and state of anxiety. This reality in 2017 was awarded in the startup competition of the Web Marketing Festival and, one year later, one of its founders returned to the Rimini event to talk about how their entrepreneurial adventure is continuing. On that occasion, we met Valentino Megale, Co-founder and CEO of TOMMI, to whom we asked to answer some questions.
What are the applications of virtual reality in the medical field?
Since the 50s, especially in the USA, the virtual reality has been studied as a cognitive tool, that is able to influence the psycho-emotional state of the person. The bibliography is very rich in research demonstrating how the fields of application are extremely varied: reduction of anxiety and pain, phobias, autism, eating disorders, depression, PTSD as well as rehabilitation and education in the medical-health field. Applications are growing both in number and effectiveness, especially because after more than 40 years, today we finally have a VR technology that is becoming economically accessible, easy and supported by developers who look at areas and requests increasingly differentiated.
Who is your team composed of? What are the figures necessary to create a reality like yours?
Our team consists of 9 people at the moment and was born with 5 co-founders. We have known each other for several years and have already worked together on other innovative projects previously, always at the interface between health and digital. The whole team covers all the steps of the realization of our projects: our experience ranges from academic medical research to biomedical engineering, from product design to game design, through software development and VR up to 2D / 3D design and innovation in business and digital health. I think these are the necessary ingredients to be able to face the world of startups: a strong and consolidated team, capable of balancing on a human level as well as thanks to multi-sector and complementary experiences.
How do you create the balance between the creative work of the construction of virtual reality scenarios and the medical/scientific part of the therapeutic applications?
The starting point and the point of arrival is always one: the patient. We start in the scientific field, defines its needs, its limits, its journey through therapy and hospitalization. These conditions determine the framework, the technical and theoretical posts, within which to free the creativity of the development team that will have the goal of creating a beautiful, engaging, even fun experience, but specifically stitched around a specific target patient. In short, creativity must be contextualized to bring out its potential in a field such as health, but clearly applies to every field of application.
What are the risks of this technology?
The risks are determined by a bad use of the technology itself, of which it is necessary to know the merits and the defects, so as not to be surprised once the content is supplied to the end user. A poorly designed VR experience can cause dizziness and nausea (so-called motion sickness), too long sessions can potentially fatigue the eyes, or the contents themselves may not be suitable for the target age range (especially in children) generating an emotional impact unwanted. In the case of patients, moreover, we need to take into consideration a whole series of factors such as their greater sensory sensitivity, the motor limits, the treatments to which they are subjected. The VR experience should be sewn ad hoc, it can not be a standard platform or a proposed content as a general distraction. Designing in virtual reality is a mixture of technical development and understanding of human perception and the main risks derive especially when one of the two aspects is taken into consideration, leaving out the other. Finally, especially in the health field, each solution must be properly validated in the clinical field before being distributed on the market: it is understood how patients adopt the technology, if the solution is really able to generate value compared to traditional solutions (and do so objective, with data in the hand) and if it fits appropriately in the therapeutic and hospital dynamics.
Many have already begun to look with interest at your reality. Who do you work with and what are your areas of development?
At this moment we are defining the logistic conditions and the resources necessary to start the clinical validation of TOMMI at the Bambin Gesù in Rome and the Regina Margherita of Turin. We are also in contact with two other hospitals in Italy and one in the area of Houston, Texas, where we have just completed a process of acceleration in digital health at the Texas Medical Center, the largest medical center in the world. To these are added partners such as the German pharma company Merck, the CNR of Milan but also the non-profit association “Innovami” of Imola, with whom we are building new collaborations.
A look towards the future: in which direction is the virtual reality going?
Towards a deep intersection with artificial intelligence, exactly as it is happening with many other devices, such as smartphones. For years, the contents on smartphones have been used by sending data and taking advantage of the services offered by the various apps. Today, thanks to AI companions and bots, the smartphone becomes a system based on mutual dialogue: one understands each other and this will allow services progressively more personalized for each user. In VR the same thing will happen and it is already starting: we will see responsive VR experiences, where the AI will “understand” the user (analyzing thanks to biometrics and machine learning) and will adapt in real time to his psychoemotional state. A huge potential in every field and particularly in healthcare, a potential we are exploring with TOMMI and our future projects.