Twelve million procedures are performed under general anesthesia every year in France. One startup is offering an alternative: virtual reality. The hypnotic kind.
Forget the spattered rooms and smell of ether associated with traditional operating theaters. With a virtual reality headset over your eyes, you can now have surgery on a fine sandy beach while listening to jazz. Strasbourg-based startup HypnoVR, co-founded by two anesthesiologists/hypnotherapists and an expert in new technologies, offers the option of immersion to patients undergoing a surgical procedure. “Our system is medically certified: it offers customized hypnosis sessions,” explains Nicolas Schaettel, co-founder of the young startup. “The doctor sets two parameters: the duration and the hypnotic script appropriate to the procedure being performed. The patient then chooses from three virtual worlds (beach paradise, deep sea diving, or mountain stroll) and various musical themes, and selects whether they want to hear a female or a male voice.”
It is a gentler alternative to anesthesia that focuses on patient comfort. Of the 12 million general anesthetic procedures performed in France each year, one third reportedly cause side effects, from straightforward nausea to life-threatening complications such as cardiorespiratory risks. Not only are these dangers avoided with this drug-free alternative, it is also lighter on the budget: “It decreases stress, reduces the use of analgesics (particularly opioids), shortens hospital stays, and speeds up postoperative recovery,” the company claims, concluding that, “depending on the type of procedure, anesthesia with hypnosis may save health facilities and the healthcare system between €300 and in excess of €1000 compared to traditional anesthesia.”
A tool for anesthesiologists and hypnotherapists
While it is not always possible to avoid the use of anesthesia, the startup estimates that nearly six million procedures performed under anesthesia could transition to using hypnosis. And that would cover a “very wide range of procedures”, according to Nicolas Schaettel. “We actually started out using our system on Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift headsets in the operating room for inserting and removing implantable ports in children. Then, we expanded to oocyte retrieval in medically assisted reproduction, dental surgery, colonoscopy, interventional radiology, chemotherapy, and more. It doesn’t just anesthetize, it also offers relief from all painful or anxiety-inducing procedures.” This wide range of applications has enabled the company to sell its product to Strasbourg University Hospital, where it is used in eight different departments, as well as to Institut Curie, the Oscar Lambret Cancer Center, the Saint-Saulve Clinic, and even a center in Mauritius. “Now that our first customers are equipped, and looking at the year-end interest margins, we expect our development to speed up dramatically in the first quarter of 2019.”