Immersive Rehab: Transforming Physical Rehabilitation using Virtual Reality

Dr. ir. Isabel Van De Keere | CEO & Founder | Immersive Rehab [ Insights Success ]

Physical rehabilitation is often not an accessible, engaging and motivating activity to embark upon and engagement with and long term compliance can be a limiting factor in relation to treatment success. Stroke patients and people with limited mobility in upper limbs often cannot engage with physical objects during physical rehab due to lack of strength which slows down their recovery process, as well as being very demoralizing. It is important to offer people access to effective physical rehabilitation exercises and to keep people engaged into their physical rehabilitation programme as this is key process in their recovery. They also have limited access to follow-up rehab once up and walking while still having very limited upper limb mobility. Immersive Rehab’s Virtual Reality Platform provides an engaging and motivating solution to the current limitations of physical rehab, in particular for people with significant neurological upper limb mobility limitations.

Story of Establishment

Headquartered in London, Immersive Rehab was one of the 12 startups in the autumn 2016 cohort of the 12-week Bethnal Green Ventures Tech for Good accelerator programme. Immersive Rehab creates physical rehabilitation exercises in virtual reality that improve patient recovery. By combining neuro- & physical rehab, it is possible to obtain important gains in mobility and function. Immersive Rehab is all about empowering patients going through physical and neuro-rehabilitation and giving them more of their independence back, thereby also reducing referral times into physical therapy facilities.

Inspiration behind Immersive Rehab

What makes Immersive Rehab’s approach to the rehab problem unique is the personal connection of Dr. ir. Isabel Van De Keere, CEO & Founder to the creation of the company. Eight years ago Isabel had a severe work accident herself resulting in a reduced mobility, loss of independence, isolation and a long rehab period. As such, Isabel knows the physical rehab space and field of work very well. Aside from that, she has strong technical and strategic skills as a Mechanical Engineer, Doctor in Biomedical Engineering and strategist. This resulted already in numerous important connections and key collaborations with healthcare professionals and individuals suffering from neurological disorders. Isabel has 12 years of professional experience and is an experienced manager, engineer & strategist, healthcare technology scientist & academic, product designer, experimentalist, and collaborator across disciplines. She has an MSc in Mechanical Engineering (2004) and a PhD in Biomedical Engineering (2009), thereby combining her two passions: engineering and healthcare. Isabel has extensive experience in product design & development, user & scientific research, prototyping, physical & neuro-rehabilitation techniques, biomechanics, Virtual Reality and digital health technologies.

The Services Rendered by Immersive Rehab

Immersive Rehab’s unique selling point is that they are providing a solution to current limitations of physical rehab, in particular for people with important neurological upper limb mobility limitations. A key focus is on improving the motor skills and on reducing referral times into physical rehab facilities.  Currently, stroke patients for example gain on average only about 15% of their upper-limb mobility back post stroke. By combining neuro- & physical rehab, it is possible to obtain important gains in mobility. When people enter the virtual world, they perform rehab exercises by interacting with virtual objects, something often not achievable in the real world. By engaging a person’s brain into thinking that they are actually moving objects around, it is possible to tap into the neuroplasticity of their brain, i.e. ability to change and adapt, which can lead to important improvements of motor function.

Target Market

Immersive Rehab is all about empowering patients going through physical and neurorehabilitation and giving them more of their independence back. Current target groups are people with upper limb mobility limitations and poor fine motor function, in particular as a result of stroke, spinal cord injury, MS and other neurodegenerative conditions. Key connections have been made with specialised physical and neuro-rehabilitation centres around the world. The MVP has been trialed so far by physiotherapists and occupational therapists in various hospitals and rehab clinics around the UK, all specialized in stroke, spinal cord injury rehabilitation & MS. A number of individuals with the latter conditions have tested the prototypes as well on a voluntary basis with impressive results regarding engagement, balance and mobility.

Future Ahead

Working in a highly regulated space as healthcare and therapeutic treatments brings a number of regulatory, ethical and validation challenges along. Also, virtual reality is still an emerging technology that needs validation in sectors like healthcare and in clinical environments. Immersive Rehab is all about giving patients options as there is nothing worse than having no options at all.