Samsung has announced that it is partnering up with Gangnam Severance Hospital and Korean VR development outfit FNI to create a set of mental health diagnosis programs centered around its Gear VR headset and ecosystem. The focus of the endeavor will be on suicide prevention and basic psychological assessment, helping to give individuals a base upon which to form a conversation with professionals, and to help individuals struggling with suicidal thoughts and tendencies. The plan is to create a number of programs to be tested at hospitals, using existing patient data as the basis for creating and testing the tools. From there, the tools will end up in dementia centers and schools, before finally becoming commercially available to the public. This is all slated to happen in 2018.
The programs are said to utilize AI and data on real mental patients to built a comprehensive program around a given type of mental illness. Special kits, including specially made chairs, will be produced for the tool kits. Samsung’s Gear S3 smartwatches, S Health app, and Bixby AI assistant will all reportedly play a part in the finished product, but the core of it all will be a VR experience meant to help patients discover the risk factors and possibility of a mental illness in themselves.
The use of VR in health care and even mental health is nothing new, but this development will be the first VR experience made to specifically address mental health diagnosis and suicide prevention using consumer-grade, off-the-shelf hardware, making it more accessible than alternatives. As of now, the experience is not meant to treat patients, only to aid in diagnosis and to act as immediate aid for potentially suicidal individuals, a sort of band-aid until they can be given proper treatment. For the time being, the closest thing is a VR system used by health insurance company Medibank, which aims to assuage feelings of loneliness and isolation for patients in long hospital stays, and is built on Google’s powerful and easy to use Daydream ecosystem. A similar system, built on Gear VR by Build VR, is meant to help engage positive feelings in patients suffering from illnesses like dementia.