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Q&A: Using biofeedback to modify immersive experiences in real-time

Healium, which offers reactive virtual and augmented reality experiences that adjust according to neurofeedback from a user’s body, received $3.6 million in seed funding earlier this year and signed an agreement with Mayo Clinic for the development of immersive mental health and fitness experiences. 

Sarah Hill, CEO of Healium, sat down with MobiHealthNews to discuss the Missouri-based company’s offerings and its use case in healthcare.

MobiHealthNews: Can you tell me about Healium and how the biofeedback aspect works?

Sarah Hill: So, Healium is a digital drug, a non-harmful coping mechanism for mental wellness and sleep, and it’s just using immersive media in a healing way. And just as media can be harmful when you watch things on your social feed or you watch things on the news and it can increase your heart rate, similarly, media can also heal by downshifting your nervous system.

There are different kinds of wearables that [Healium] use. We have two compatible wearables. One is an EEG meditation headband that’s just worn across the forehead. It’s not diagnostic in any way. It’s a self-awareness tool, a pacer if you will. So it’s detecting your brain patterns associated with focused calm. And in these experiences, your mind is actually controlling a firefly or it might be an aura around you that turns from a yellow color to blue if you lower your stress. So the media is reacting and responding to you and your own physiology.  

Or, in augmented reality, just on your mobile device, you can pair your Apple Watch and you can use your heart rate to lighten the solar system. And if your heart rate is too high, the feedback is that the solar system darkens as gentle feedback to you to increase your breathing and try to lower your heart rate. So it’s kind of like biofeedback/neurofeedback on steroids inside these immersive environments, where the feedback that you get isn‘t just a number. It isn’t just audio. It’s actually immersive media, which we know in research that immersive media is more memorable. It’s more engaging than audio or even 2D interventions.  

Beyond Healium’s content, our core technology allows you to generate, modify and recommend XR content to the user on the basis of EEG, heart rate, skin conductance, blood pressure, etc. Important tools in generative AI.

MHN: What are its use cases in healthcare, and how are you working with Mayo Clinic?

Hill: Mayo Clinic has a know-how license and is one of the investors in our latest round. 

Healium is used in areas of stress and for burnout. These are drugless escapes that can quickly interrupt the stress response and quickly downshift the nervous system and trick the brain into thinking that you’re not in a stressful situation. You’re actually somewhere else. And that’s the goal of Healium to provide drugless tools that allow people to feel better and learn to self-regulate their brain patterns and their heart rate. Healium is also sold into schools, the military; elite athletes are using Healium as well. 

We recently won the NFL Players Association pitch competition. And we were in Phoenix in the lead-up into the Super Bowl, sharing Healium with elite athletes there. You know, this is the stress Olympics right now, right? And not everyone is trained for it. And so these are just tools that allow them to see their feelings so that they can learn to self-regulate.

MHN: There is a chair one sits in during the Healium experience. Do you need the chair?

Hill: The chair is optional, but we’re a big fan of the chair. It’s called a Revibe Chair, and they’re one of our partners.  

We like to combine Healium with vibration and stories. And we use a variety of inputs, not just vibration, or EEG or heart rate. But we also use aroma. And there’s another one of our partners called OVR Technology, which is a wearable that has integrated into Healium so that when you are going through these experiences, you can actually smell what it looks like, which is fascinating to us. So we’re rooting for the folks over at OVR because we know that integrating aroma has value in storytelling and in immersion, and in quickly downshifting the nervous system.

MHN: Is there anything else you wanted to add?

Hill: We have a free program for veterans called Honor Everywhere that provides them free virtual tours to the World War II, Vietnam, Korean or Women’s Memorials. So, if you know of an aging World War II or a terminally ill veteran, tell them about that free app. It’s available on most standalone VR headsets. 

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