Travelers tests virtual reality pain treatment for orthopedic injuries

BY John Stearns

The Travelers Cos. says it's exploring whether virtual reality can help those with injuries to the lower back and extremities better manage pain.

Travelers is collaborating with Cedars-Sinai, Samsung Electronics America, Bayer and appliedVR on a trial testing a so-called digital pain-reduction kit, which includes a VR headset, smart watch and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.

Cedars-Sinai's Center for Outcomes Research and Education and Department of Orthopaedic Surgery will conduct the research over 16 months on 90 to 140. Travelers, which offers worker's compensation insurance, hopes the technology will improve outcomes for injured employees.

"Workplace injuries that lead to chronic pain can cause ongoing issues, as an injured employee may mask pain with opioids or other drugs," said Dr. Melissa Burke, national pharmacy director at Travelers. "Identifying new, non-pharmacologic alternatives for pain management can help an injured employee avoid chronic pain, lower the chances that they will develop a dangerous opioid addiction and reduce medical costs."

The partners say recent research has shown that VR technology can reduce pain in hospitalized patients.

"This project is exciting and groundbreaking in that it will be the first to evaluate the economic benefits of virtual reality in the setting of workers compensation," said Dr. David Rhew, Samsung's chief medical officer.

Travelers said the project demonstrates its focus to find innovative ways to engage and support injured employees and to help customers maintain a safe workplace and manage workers compensation-related risks.