by Marina Gersony
A new start-up arrives from Israel with the purpose of reduce patient discomfort, fear and dissatisfaction, often scared or unprepared to face critical health situations. Is called OtherReality and it is redefining the international medical panorama. This innovation offers healthcare professionals the opportunity to revisit complex scenarios and bring out their empathic ability, which is fundamental in relationships with patients.

In a world where sudden diagnoses and hasty visits can prove traumatic, this start-up represents a revolution towards a more humane medicine that pays attention to individual needs. Indeed, the lack of empathy represents a significant obstacle globally, fueling crucial challenges in the healthcare sector such as worker burnout and patient well-being.

In the United States alone, a lack of empathy costs the healthcare system approximately $100 billion per year. While it is clear that improving this capacity is critical to quality healthcare, current solutions have so far failed to personalize interventions and scale them up.

Today this new technology allows doctors to immerse themselves in realistic simulations of difficult interactions, allowing them to experiment with new approaches and understand patients’ points of view. For patients, hospitalization or a diagnosis are unique and unrepeatable events that should not be marked by distractions or inappropriate behavior.

A case in point: Many pregnant women learn that they have miscarried during a shift in the obstetrics and gynecology emergency room of an Israeli hospital, with devastating consequences for their emotions.

The new start-up was launched through a partnership between Bar-Ilan University and Sheba Medical Center’s ARC Innovation Center, and is currently being tested at Sheba and other Israeli hospitals. With its innovative approach, it promises to transform modern medicinemaking it more empathetic and personalized, offering a concrete response to patients’ needs.

Although doctors in Israel are considered excellent technicians, many patients feel that they cannot put themselves in other people’s shoes. In recent years, doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals have recognized this problem. The ability to empathize, sensitivity and reassuring words were neglected due to workloads. Now they have understood that good communication and an objective approach to the health problem must not deceive or scare, but rather provide tools to deal with it as best as possible, listening to patients’ fears and anxieties.

This Israeli technology not only improves doctor-patient communication, but also has the potential to reduce burnout among healthcare workers, promoting a more empathetic and rewarding work environment. Ultimately, OtheReality is not just a technological tool, but a philosophy of care that places the patient’s dignity at the center.

“For doctors, communicating difficult news is a daily aspect of their work, often approached with a pragmatic approach,” he explains Yotvat Palter-Diciano, co-founder and COO of OtheReality, in an article in The Times of Israel. “The doctor may be more focused on cleaning the bed or on the practical aspects of treatment, while for the patient the experience can be traumatic and painful.”

«Lack of empathy is a global problem, not just in Israel, and affects not only the healthcare field, but also education, the business environment and much more. There is a lot of research in these areas”, he says in turn Motti Neigerfounder and creative director of OtheReality and professor of communications at Bar-Ilan University.

Empathy to optimize patient experience and employee well-being

OtheReality’s goal is to transform this dynamic by encouraging clinicians to consider the patient as a person with a problem, and not as a problem to be solved. Through the use of virtual reality and interactive scenarios, doctors can develop greater sensitivity and understanding of patients’ emotions, thus improving their medical performance.

The consequences of poor empathy manifest themselves in several aspects:

  • Poor patient satisfaction and reputational damage: Patients who do not feel listened to and supported with empathy tend to express less satisfaction and can damage the reputation of the healthcare facility.
  • High staff attrition and burnout: The empathy-free work environment can cause stress, frustration and demotivation in workers, leading to increased attrition and burnout.
  • Increase in malpractice claims and lawsuits: Lack of empathy can contribute to ineffective communication and misunderstandings between patients and providers, increasing the risk of malpractice claims and lawsuits.
  • Poor adherence to post-hospital treatment: Patients who do not feel involved and supported with empathy during their hospital stay are less likely to properly adhere to post-hospital care, compromising outcomes and increasing costs. Investing in effective solutions to strengthen empathy in the healthcare sector is essential to improve the quality of care, reduce costs and create a positive working environment for providers and patients.

How does the start-up work?

Using VR technology and accessible headsets, OtheReality allows trainee doctors to experience what it means to be a patient, while offering experienced professionals the opportunity to become more empathetic. Training with the app includes questions that explore patients’ emotional, cognitive and motivational aspects. For example, they are asked how they felt during the experience, what they found disturbing and what they would have done differently in reality.

Operation is simple: just wear a VR headset connected to an audio, download the OtheReality app on your phone, select the situation seen from the patient’s point of view and insert the phone into the VR headset holder, allowing an almost 360 degree view .

When a journalist tried OtheReality, she effectively “transformed” into a pregnant woman lying on a hospital bed. She saw her body with her legs resting on her support, a worried husband to her left, and a resident doctor along with a senior doctor moving around the room, arguing with each other and largely ignoring the patient .

The simulated scene, including that of a miscarriage, was then performed by specially trained actors and written based on the doctors’ contributions and the patients’ experiences.

«Dozens of women have written to me about their experiences in the obstetric-gynecological emergency room. They remembered every detail: the light, the temperature, the sound of the air conditioner, someone’s inappropriate joke and the doctor’s position when he broke the bad news,” Neiger explained.

In short, this new technology helps healthcare professionals empathize with the patient’s point of view. Starting from annoying noises, from the nurse on duty speaking loudly on the phone or from noisy staff laughing and joking.

The OtheReality website reports several positive testimonials of doctors joining this project: «The VR experience was extraordinary. It allows medical personnel to grasp the situation from the patient’s point of view very effectively. I think this tool should be a requirement for medical students. It is a very important tool and I have no doubt that it will be widely used,” said Dr. Anat Engel, Executive Director of the Wolfson Medical Center.

“I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had to deal with similar situations. OtheReality helped me understand the patient’s point of view and changed the way I interact with patients,” said Doctor Avid Cohen, Senior Deputy Director of the Women’s Department of the Ichilov Medical Center.

The OtheReality team continues to refine the product with ARC’s MSR Medical Simulation Center and hopes to bring it to the United States later this year.