Virtual reality (VR) has always seemed like an answer to finding a problem. This has never been clearer than with Meta’s recent metaverse stumble, which cost the company more than two-thirds of its market valuation at the time of writing. For a technology that has always seemed focused on its potential as a gaming device, it looks like it’s bound to disappoint. However, with Penumbra’s recent announcement of its REAL-y Virtual Reality platform, VR could find a second wind in the rehabilitation segment… along with video games.
Last Tuesday, Penumbra announced the world’s first completely hands-free, tetherless VR rehabilitation solution with full body rehabilitation capabilities. GlobalData estimates that there are approximately 52 million potential rehabilitation patients in the United States, which means VR technology has a large patient population to grow to accommodate. Additionally, GlobalData expects the virtual reality market to reach $80 billion by 2030. If the REAL-y platform is able to prove its worth, Penumbra could grab a big chunk of it. part of this market. But how does it work? Penumbra Executive Vice President and General Manager Gita Barry reportedly said, “Two of the biggest challenges in rehab are maintaining patient motivation and lack of engagement. By ‘gamifying’ the therapy, it is believed that patients are more likely to be engaged and complete their exercises.
Whether or not this gamble pays off remains to be seen, as the market does not yet have a fully developed hardware and software ecosystem to support the REAL-y system. Things look promising, however; If the REAL-y system proves it can overcome the commitment and motivation issues that have plagued the physical therapy field, it could start to see a lot of engagement. Another important question is the reimbursement status of these devices. In the United States, reimbursement strongly controls whether or not a device is adopted by the healthcare industry, as it significantly reduces the cost to the customer. To obtain reimbursement, Penumbra will have to prove the value of its device.
However, GlobalData believes there are several tailwinds that will benefit Penumbra and the broader “VR as a rehabilitation tool” market. The proportion of older people continues to grow and with it the need for rehabilitation. As these patients also tend to be wealthier than their younger counterparts, the rehabilitation industry can expect to see an influx of wealthy patients in the coming decades. Additionally, the growing acceptance of software and devices as medical devices means that these devices are commonplace. This may increase the likelihood that the FDA will approve them for reimbursement status, as happened with telehealth devices during the Covid-19 pandemic.