AppliedVR, a pioneer advancing the next generation of digital medicine, today announced results from the first randomized controlled trial (RCT), evaluating virtual-reality-based (VR) therapy for self-management of chronic pain at home. The study, which was published in JMIR-FR, found that a self-administered, skills-based VR treatment program was not only a feasible and scalable way to treat chronic pain, it also was effective at improving on multiple chronic pain outcomes.
With the COVID-19 pandemic severely disrupting Americans’ ability to seek care in clinical settings safely, demand for home-based virtual care has skyrocketed, forcing providers, insurers and policymakers to expand access to digital medicine. Today’s study sought to demonstrate the feasibility and efficacy of people using the AppliedVR program at home on themselves to manage their chronic pain. The team conducted a rigorously designed study that compared VR to the same treatment delivered in an audio-only format, and found that VR was superior at delivering on desired outcomes.
The study analyzed data from 74 people who suffer from chronic lower-back or fibromyalgia pain over a 21-day period and showed that participants using AppliedVR’s EaseVR program significantly reduced five key pain indicators – each of which met or exceeded the 30-percent threshold for clinically meaningful. On average, participants noted that:
• Pain intensity reduced 30 percent;
• Pain-related activity interference reduced 37 percent;
• Pain-related mood interference reduced 50 percent;
• Pain-related sleep interference reduced 40 percent; and
• Pain-related stress interference reduced 49 percent.
“People with chronic pain often have limited access to comprehensive pain care that includes skills-based behavioral medicine. We tested whether VR that was self-administered at home would be an effective therapy for chronic pain,” said Dr. Beth Darnall, AppliedVR’s chief science advisor, who co-authored the study. “We found high engagement and satisfaction, combined with clinically significant reductions in pain and low levels of adverse effects, support the feasibility and acceptability for at-home, skills-based VR for chronic pain.”
AppliedVR’s EaseVR program helps patients learn self-management skills grounded in evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) principles, along with providing biofeedback and mindfulness strategies. The program was designed by AppliedVR, in partnership with the top pain experts and researchers, to improve self-regulation of cognitive, emotional and physiological responses to stress and pain. AppliedVR has already been shown to be an effective treatment for acute pain in hospital settings.
Chronic pain is an extremely costly and complex problem for the U.S. healthcare system. The CDC reports that a staggering 20 percent of U.S. adults suffer from it, with nearly one in 10 experiencing high-impact chronic pain. A previous Johns Hopkins study published in The Journal of Pain found that the annual cost of chronic pain is as high as $635 billion a year, which is more than the yearly costs for cancer, heart disease and diabetes. As pain is often treated with pharmacological interventions, including opioids, which can be costly over a lifetime and have short- and long-term side effects, many providers are now turning to digital medicine as an effective CBT that supports their larger treatment toolbelt.
“This study is a fundamental step for advancing a clinically proven, noninvasive and safe digital therapeutic like VR for chronic pain, and demonstrates our platform is both viable and efficacious,” said Josh Sackman, co-founder and president of AppliedVR. “Living with and managing chronic pain daily can be a debilitating and costly challenge, and many patients suffering from it can feel hopeless and desperate for any relief. So, as we engage in and accelerate more in-depth clinical research, we want them to know that we’re committed to making VR a reimbursable standard of care for pain.”
AppliedVR has applied the study’s results to expand its program to eight weeks, which will be tested later this year in additional RCTs. The company recently partnered with University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) to study how digital therapeutic platforms, including virtual and augmented reality, can be used to improve care access for underserved populations. AppliedVR also is advancing two clinical trials with Geisinger and Cleveland Clinic to study VR as an opioid-sparing tool for acute and chronic pain – specifically the company’s RelieVRx and EaseVRx platforms. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), recently awarded $2.9 million grants to fund the trials.