TOMMI is a virtual reality (VR) game designed to improve patient experience during therapy. This game was the first project developed by Softcare Studios, a Rome-based startup company founded in June 2017. Through this game, data regarding patient performance during therapy is collected and sent to medical providers to improve patients’ monitoring. This project has a two-pronged aim: to improve patient experience as well as to simplify the work of medical providers.
TOMMI aims to reduce children’s anxiety and pain perception during therapy. At the same time, it fosters a more collaborative environment between patients and doctors, making it simpler for doctors to apply tests and medical treatments to children. As a multi-stakeholder project, the game also involves caregivers (parents), allowing them to have a more active role in the therapeutic pathway. The use of VR technology is supported by a strong body of scientific research indicating that virtual reality serves as more than just a form of distraction. Instead, VR is able to physiologically reduce pain perception and anxiety by reducing the brain’s sensibility to our physical body and by enabling users to feel better even in stressful conditions.
A bit of history
TOMMI’s story began when at the end of 2016, the team that now manages the project started to explore the integration of VR and other new technologies in healthcare. Eventually, the team joined a hackathon in Rome organised by German pharmaceutical company Merck. The challenge posed at the event was to improve level of adherence during patient therapy. Within 24 hours, the team developed the idea of TOMMI, presented the idea, and eventually won the hackathon. This gave the team the opportunity to join Merck’s accelerator program for 3 months in Germany, during which they further developed the idea for TOMMI, honed their business and startup skills and officially registered their startup company. The hackathon paved the way to further success, with the team going on to win further awards including the Pfizer Healthcare Challenge and the Italian selection of the European Startup Awards.
In July 2017, the team began to pilot the TOMMI game at Bambino Gesù Hospital, the largest pediatric hospital in Rome. During this pilot phase, the team worked with doctors and psychologists, and engaged with caregivers and children to receive feedback that is crucial for improving the design of the game. Additionally, they formed focus groups to test the game and refine it according to the users’ feedback. In the process, the team used agile development to make prototyping rapid, timely, and flexible.
The TOMMI project allowed the team to discover how to transform their ideas into a real, practical solution that meets patients’ needs. Most importantly, they learned that end users are also the best designers.
Naturally, the team faced many challenges along the way. For one thing, they were dealing with the health and wellbeing of people. When it comes to digital health solutions, innovators must perform a risk assessment to define every potential risk that they can expose users to—and this process requires great understanding of the technology being used. Another challenge was that the healthcare sector has traditionally not been open to new or disruptive technologies. Therefore, in the process of implementing the solution, they had to not only pay attention to the details of the solution, but also to the way that they connected and approached hospitals as places that will facilitate the solution.
TOMMI is an example of a tech for good company that is trying to scale up and reach a larger audience in different countries. Currently, part of the TOMMI team is attending a second accelerator program called the Digital Fair Accelerator at the Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas. Upon completing this program, they plan to complete the pilot in Rome, start at least two pilots in the US, and eventually make the game ready to be introduced to hospitals under a license.
Softcare Studios is currently searching for seed funding. Their project’s goal is to eventually sell the product to hospitals, but they must first pilot the TOMMI game at these hospitals. Therefore, to be economically sustainable in the beginning, their aim is to first sell the product to caregivers and families themselves. In the meantime, they are also considering the possibility of applying for reimbursement strategy in the US.
Softcare Studios also has other future goals in mind. First, they are aiming to further develop the technology they are using so that ultimately, the game can become more responsive to users. The goal is for the game to be able to collect biofeedback and modify the VR experience according to the specific needs of each patients.
Additionally, Softcare Studios realize that TOMMI is only their first project. Although the solution they are currently developing is dedicated to hospitalised children, the model behind this solution can and will be expanded to other patient categories as well, possibly addressing therapy for patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Softcare Studios is currently setting the model to use VR to improve patients’ experience and obtain meaningful data regarding patients’ performances. In the near future, the young startup wants to realise new projects with new realities, scale up their model, and expand across Europe and the US.
Case study date: May 2018.
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