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How virtual reality could help women during childbirth

February 13, 2020, 12:44 AM UTC

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Hope you’ve had a good Wednesday, readers.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the intersection of virtual reality and its intersection with health care. And it’s not just reasonable to maintain a healthy level of skepticism about using the technology in medicine, it’s necessary.

The current hype and hope about digital health rarely delivers practical solutions or results. At least, right now. It could take years, if not decades, for the technology to prove itself.

But that’s not to say that we should ignore early-stage advances—especially when it comes to traditionally under-explored areas like maternal health. And a new study presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Grapevine, Texas demonstrates exactly why.

The research, focused on women in labor, involved a half-hour test that displayed certain relaxing sequences via a VR headset. The experiment involved women who hadn’t been given pain drugs and were going into labor for the first time.

According to Reuters, the study participants who wore the VR headsets over a 30-minute period had an average 0.52 point drop on the self-reported pain scale (which goes from 1 to 10) compared with the control group that experienced a nearly identical rise in pain.

This was a small group of just 40 participants in labor. But this kind of research helps explain why health care firms are so invested in the digital health space, including technologies which are still far from proven on a large scale. The hype and hope may take years to pan out but it’s going to be worth the wait. And the fact that maternal health in America needs significant improvements underscores that need. It’s good to see the researchers giving that underserved area the attention it deserves.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com
@the_sy_guy

DIGITAL HEALTH

Robotic surgery and the future of health care. Ryan Madder, a cardiology chief at Michigan's Spectrum Health, has a piece up at Fortune detailing the promise of robotic surgery in remote regions where access to health care can be hard to come by. What I found most fascinating about Madder's piece is his explication of the "hub-and-spoke" model of medicine. Here's what he had to say: "Hub-and-spoke models currently exist for the treatment of heart attacks and strokes, but existing models necessitate patients presenting at a spoke location before being transferred to the hub to undergo a procedure. The tele-robotic hub-and-spoke model could dramatically increase the volume of patients one physician could treat." (Fortune)

INDICATIONS

A massive shakeup at Sanofi. French drug giant Sanofi is shaking up its executive staff as it transforms its drug pipeline. Under CEO Paul Hudson, the company is ousting its chief medical officer/digital officer, as well as three other major executives. What does that mean for Sanofi's digital health ambitions? According to Hudson, the company isn't retrenching from the use of A.I. and other health tech to help its drug development ambitions. (FiercePharma)

Coronavirus gets a name. Call it COVID-19. The World Health Organization (WHO) finally has a name for the coronavirus strain, 2019-nCoV, that has been wreaking havoc across Asian and international health and economic systems. To be clear, COVID-19 is the term for the disease caused by the underlying virus. The virus itself will be referred to as coronavirus 2. ((Science)

THE BIG PICTURE

Contagion and the epidemic of fear. In case you haven't had enough coronavirus content... The screenwriter of Steven Soderbergh's Contagion did a Q&A with Fortune about the ways the film relates to the current outbreak. The main takeaway? "What is... important and accurate is the societal response and the spread of fear and the knock-on effects of that. That is proving to be accurate," he says. Yes, we've seen this movie before. (Fortune)

REQUIRED READING

White House proposes huge A.I. spending increase amidst budget cutsby Jonathan Vanian

Fortune poll: Many Americans are uneasy about the T-Mobile Sprint mergerby Lance Lambert

The importance of caffeineby Alan Murray

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