Notes from  “3rd Annual Innovations in Psychiatry and Behavioral Health: Virtual Reality and Behavior Change.”


On Oct 6-7, we attended  “3rd Annual Innovations in Psychiatry and Behavioral Health: Virtual Reality and Behavior Change.” which was hosted at Stanford University School of Medicine.  The following are selected observations from the event.

"Keynote: Overview of Medical VR" by Walter Greenleaf, PhD research neuroscientist and medical product developer at Stanford University

  • Over 30 years of academic research and over 3000 studies demonstrate that VR can improve behaviors, attitudes, and health.
  • Virtual environments are used clinically to treat several important mental and behavioral health problems in areas such as 1) drug and alcohol abuse, 2) schizophrenia, 3) post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 4) generalized anxiety disorder, 5) depression, 6) ADHD, 7) anger management, 8) eating disorders/weigh management, 9) learning disabilities, 10) stress management and 11) grief counseling
  • Until now, VR technology was expensive, bulky and difficult to use.  Today, we have the advancements to bring VR to scale in heathcare.
  • After years of validations and use by early adopters - VR technology is poised to move to the mainstream.

"VR and Pain Management/Addiction" by David A. Thomas, PhD National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) / National Institute of Health (NIH)

  • There is a huge need for new pain treatments
  • Deaths each year from a prescription opioid overdose exceeds deaths from cocaine and heroin overdoses combined. 
  • The last decade of research has established that VR, in a variety of situations, offers a safe and effective treatment of pain, without the possibility of drug addiction or many side effects common to opioids.
  • VR is proving itself as one viable option for reducing pain in suffering, and thus its development must be a priority.

VR and Anxiety with Painful Procedures in Children” by Anne Dubin, MD Professor of Pediatrics at Stanford, and Director of the Pediatric Arrhythmia Service at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford

  • There are over 450 research articles on the use of VR in pediatric care in areas such as 1) movement disorders including cerebral palsy, 2) weight loss, 3) autism and social interaction and 4) pain.
  • Special considerations for medical VR with children include: 1) children may be more vulnerable to VR experiences and may need some debriefing after use and 2) treating chronic illness can result in reduced social interaction - VR affords a unique opportunity for children to interact with others
  • There are no studies which have shown health issues with the use of VR in children.

Translating Technology into Clinical Care: Barriers to Widespread Adoption of VR in Mental Health Practice” by Matt Vogl, MPH Executive Director National Mental Health Innovation Center – University of Colorado.  

  • Landscape is primed for widespread VR adoption because 1) there are 30 years of research, 2) VR can treat many conditions, 3) equipment is improving and costs are dropping, and 4) there is significant investment in new applications.
  • Issues to address include 1) gaps in clinical research, 2) maturity of software, 3) fears of technology obsolescence, 4) lack of IT support, 5) confusion about the diversity of technology platforms and 6) uncertainty regarding FDA regulation and how will services be paid for.
  • Going forward, there is a need for: 1) stronger industry/academic partnerships, 2) larger clinical trials and 3) engaging more people in VR experiences.


  • There were many excellent presentation at the two day conferences (the comments above address several important themes). Alan Louie, MD, Kim Bullock, MD and others organizer provided a very informative event.
  • Medicine is one of many industries that will be reshaped by virtual/augmented/mixed reality technologies.
  • While VR equipment has improved and prices have dropped, the diversity of development platforms and the requirements to learn new development skills presents a short-term challenge for the industry.
Paul Dravis