Smileyscope: How This Company Uses VR To Help Reduce Patient Pain And Anxiety

By Amit Chowdhry ● Feb 12, 2024

Smileyscope is a digital therapeutics company with proprietary technology that reframes medical procedures using choreographed virtual reality (VR) experiences to help reduce patient pain and anxiety and improve the overall patient experience. Pulse 2.0 interviewed Smileyscope CEO Dr. Evelyn Chan to learn more about the company. 

Dr. Chan’s Background

Dr. Evelyn Chan

Dr. Chan is a medical doctor specializing in pediatrics. And Dr. Chan said:

“My passion for medicine stems from a deeply personal experience: growing up with a brother who had autism, I witnessed firsthand the challenges that families face when navigating the medical world. Seeing my brother go through numerous medical procedures motivated me to pursue a career in medicine, with the goal of making these experiences more positive for children, families, and healthcare providers.”

“I earned my Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery from Monash University and later pursued further education at the University of Oxford, where I obtained Masters degrees in Public Health and Medical Anthropology. My academic journey as a Rhodes Scholar has allowed me to delve deeply into the intersection of medicine, anthropology, and public health, shaping my perspective on healthcare.”

“Throughout my career, I have been involved in various impactful roles. I served as a Course Developer for Oxford Royale Academy, where I contributed to shaping educational programs. Additionally, I worked as a Medical Doctor at The Royal Children’s Hospital, gaining valuable clinical experience and furthering my dedication to pediatric care. I am also proud to have been a Board Member for Irabina Autism Services, and I served as the Deputy Chair of the Rhodes Scholarship Trust, supporting the next generation of scholars.”

“My diverse background and experiences have equipped me with a unique understanding of the healthcare system and the challenges faced by patients and their families. Through my work and advocacy, I continue to strive for a more compassionate and supportive healthcare environment for everyone involved.”

Formation Of Smileyscope

How did the idea for Smileyscope come together? Dr. Chan shared:

“The idea for our company emerged from a deep frustration I experienced as a Pediatric Doctor and Rhodes Scholar. I was faced with the problem of limited options available to assist children and adults in overcoming their significant healthcare fears, particularly related to needles. This frustration fueled my determination to make a difference.”

“In response, I delved into extensive research, conducting what became the world’s leading studies on virtual reality (VR) and its potential applications in healthcare. My goal was to find innovative ways to ease the anxiety and discomfort experienced by patients during medical procedures. As I immersed myself in scientific literature, I discovered the promising benefits of VR technology. However, I also identified significant flaws in the existing VR products on the market.”

“Recognizing this gap in the healthcare industry, I was inspired to create a solution that would truly address the needs of patients. With a background in pediatrics and a passion for improving the patient experience, I founded our company to develop cutting-edge VR solutions specifically tailored to the unique challenges faced by children and adults during medical procedures.”

Favorite Memory

What has been Dr. Chan’s favorite memory of working for the company so far? Dr. Chan reflected:

“We introduced Smileyscope to a hyperactive 4-year-old foster child who had previously experienced traumatic needle procedures. I wasn’t sure how he would respond, especially as he was nervous about the needle. He was so absorbed in the VR experience and selecting fish that would nibble at his arms that he didn’t flinch at all when the needle was inserted.”

“After the VR experience finished, he was so excited that he almost knocked out his cannula as he happily showed his caregiver the headset. His foster mom had tears of joy with how smoothly the procedure went compared to the last time they were in the Emergency Department.”

“Seeing Smileyscope work so effectively in this young child and the delight they experienced will stay with me forever.”

Core Products

What are the company’s core products and features? Dr. Chan explained:

“Our core product, Smileyscope, represents a revolutionary approach to alleviating the pain and anxiety associated with medical procedures, particularly those involving needles.”

“Smileyscope offers a patented underwater virtual reality (VR) experience that is seamlessly synchronized with medical procedures. The innovation lies in its ability to transform a potentially distressing medical environment into a calming and engaging underwater adventure.”

“In collaboration with world-class producers, we designed an elegant animation for Smileyscope. During procedures, patients are immersed in an underwater world where waves wash over them during antiseptic cleaning, and friendly fish interact playfully when clinicians insert the needle. This innovative concept, termed “Procedural Choreography,” is at the heart of Smileyscope’s effectiveness.”

“What sets Smileyscope apart is its focus on teaching patients positive coping skills. By engaging patients in a captivating VR experience, Smileyscope not only distracts them from the procedure but also empowers them with tools to manage their emotions effectively. This transformative approach makes medical procedures, especially those involving needles, faster, safer, and more cost-effective to perform.”

“The impact of Smileyscope has been substantiated through two of the largest procedural VR trials conducted globally. In these trials, Smileyscope demonstrated remarkable results, reducing pain levels by up to 60% and anxiety by 40%. Additionally, it significantly alleviated parental distress by 75% and, impressively, halved the need for restraints during procedures.”

Challenges Faced

Has Dr. Chan faced any specific bottlenecks in her sector of work recently? Dr. Chan acknowledged:

“The rise of digital health solutions has indeed been pivotal, especially in the wake of the pandemic. The concept of “digital therapeutics” has opened up exciting possibilities where evidence-based software can effectively treat, manage, and prevent a wide range of behavioral, mental, and physical conditions. At Smileyscope, we’ve harnessed this potential to create digital therapeutics specifically tailored for needle-based procedural pain and anxiety, aiming to optimize patient care and outcomes.”

“However, the digital health sector, as promising as it is, presents its own set of challenges. One of the most pressing issues we face is the overwhelming influx of digital health interventions flooding the market. With over 300,000 options available and approximately 200 new health apps added daily to global app stores, differentiating between validated, effective solutions and those that are not can be daunting.”

“As a digital health community, we are actively engaged in finding the best measures and frameworks to assess these tools accurately. We are striving to establish standards that ensure the safety and efficacy of digital health interventions. For consumers, it’s an even more significant challenge. Navigating this landscape and discerning which digital health offerings are genuinely beneficial is a complex task, often requiring a level of expertise that the average consumer may not possess.”

“In light of these challenges, the digital health community, including Smileyscope, remains dedicated to rigorous research, clinical evaluation, and ongoing validation of our digital therapeutics. We are committed to providing users with solutions that are not only innovative but also safe, reliable, and genuinely effective. As we continue to expand our applications and explore new avenues within this dynamic industry, our focus remains on ensuring that our digital therapeutics contribute meaningfully to patient well-being, setting a high standard for quality and efficacy in the digital health sector.”

Evolution Of Smileyscope’s Technology

How has the company’s technology evolved since launching? Dr. Chan noted:

“Since the inception of Smileyscope, our technology has undergone significant evolution, driven by a convergence of factors that have propelled virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) into broader adoption.”

“Initially, when we started Smileyscope, VR and AR technologies were met with hype, but their practical applications were still in the experimental phase. Over time, these technologies have advanced remarkably, offering incredibly realistic and immersive experiences.”

“Smileyscope developed the first VR hardware designed specifically for medicine. It is light-weight, medical grade and enables clinicians to quickly and easily support their patients using VR.”

“Moreover, the ongoing global challenges, particularly the pandemic, highlighted unmet needs that VR and AR technologies could uniquely address. With the necessity for social distancing and remote interactions in various sectors, including healthcare, VR and AR have emerged as invaluable tools. They provide a compelling alternative to physical presence, enabling patient education, mental health support, rehabilitation, and clinician simulation training, among other applications.”

“Smileyscope continues to evolve, leveraging technology advancements to create even more impactful and immersive experiences, further enhancing patient care and well-being.”

Significant Milestones

What have been some of the company’s most significant milestones? Dr. Chan cited:

“The past few years have been incredibly transformative for Smileyscope, marked by several significant milestones that have solidified our position as leaders in the intersection of healthcare and virtual reality technology. Here are some of the key achievements that truly stand out:

Firstly, we achieved a major milestone by being granted a US Patent for our groundbreaking innovations in both virtual reality and augmented reality. This recognition underscored the uniqueness and inventiveness of our approach, validating the hard work and dedication of our team.

Furthermore, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cleared Smileyscope as a Class II Medical Device, as the very first virtual reality for acute pain. This demonstrated the rigorous effectiveness and safety in our technology.

In terms of impact, Smileyscope has been utilized in over 100,000 cases worldwide, with its adoption rapidly growing. It’s heartening to see the technology making a tangible difference in the lives of patients and healthcare providers globally.”

“Moreover, being chosen by several top 40 children’s hospitals, including renowned institutions like Boston Children’s, Children’s Hospital of Orange County, and Nicklaus Children’s and is a testament to the credibility and effectiveness of our technology. The trust placed in Smileyscope by these esteemed institutions highlights the real-world applicability of our solutions.”

“Lastly, the recognition we’ve received in the form of 30+ awards has been incredibly humbling. From being accepted into the KidsX Accelerator to receiving the Children’s National Bear PACK award for pediatric innovation and the Stanford – UCSF pediatric device consortium, these accolades affirm our commitment to pioneering advancements within pediatric medicine.”

Customer Success Stories

After asking Dr. Chan about customer success stories, she highlighted:

“1.) Rush University Oncology: In a national news piece chronicling the profound impact of Smileyscope, we witnessed the story of Molly Chandler, a young patient undergoing chemotherapy at Rush University Oncology. For many patients, the fear of constant venipuncture procedures, especially during chemotherapy, can be overwhelming. Molly, like many others, initially struggled with severe anxiety, which sometimes led to avoiding crucial life-saving treatments. However, when Rush University adopted Smileyscope, Molly’s experience took a remarkable turn. Through the immersive underwater adventure provided by Smileyscope, Molly found the courage to face her chemotherapy appointments. The technology not only alleviated her anxiety but also transformed her perspective, turning her negative experiences into positive ones.”

“2.) Covid Vaccination Support: Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Smileyscope’s impact became even more significant. With the urgency to vaccinate populations, especially children, Smileyscope’s flagship product played a pivotal role in making a state-wide vaccination campaign more successful. By employing “procedural choreography,” Smileyscope synchronized real-world needle procedures, such as vaccinations, with a captivating VR underwater adventure. This innovative approach reframed negative experiences into positive ones for children, encouraging them to complete the full vaccine schedule.”

“These success stories underscore the transformative power of Smileyscope in healthcare settings. By addressing the fear and anxiety associated with medical procedures, Smileyscope empowers patients, especially children, to face treatments with courage and resilience, ultimately improving their overall healthcare experience and outcomes.”

Differentiation From The Competition

What differentiates the company from its competition? Dr. Chan affirmed:

“Several factors set Smileyscope apart from its competition in the realm of healthcare-focused virtual reality solutions:

1.) Patient-Centric Approach: Smileyscope’s core strength lies in its patient-centric design. Our virtual reality experiences are not just immersive; they are empathetically crafted to address the unique needs and fears of patients, especially children. By understanding the emotional challenges faced during medical procedures, Smileyscope tailors its VR content to provide comfort, distraction, and empowerment, making the experience significantly more positive for patients.

2.) Procedural Choreography: Smileyscope’s patented concept of “procedural choreography” synchronizes the virtual reality experience with real-world medical procedures. This seamless integration enhances patient engagement and distraction during procedures, making the process smoother and less anxiety-inducing. This feature is particularly crucial for needle-based procedures, where anxiety is common.

3.) Evidence-Based Solutions: Smileyscope stands out due to its evidence-based approach. The technology is backed by rigorous scientific research and clinical trials, demonstrating its effectiveness in reducing pain, anxiety, and distress among patients. The data-driven validation sets Smileyscope apart as a safe, trusted and reliable solution in the healthcare industry.

4.) Industry Recognition and Adoption: Smileyscope has gained recognition and adoption from renowned healthcare institutions globally, including top children’s hospitals like Boston Children’s and Children’s Hospital of Orange County. This hospital adoption speaks volumes about the credibility and effectiveness of Smileyscope’s technology. It has also received over 30 awards and accolades, further affirming its innovative contributions to pediatric medicine.

5.) Comprehensive Range of Applications: While Smileyscope initially focused on needle-based procedures, its technology has versatile applications in various healthcare scenarios. From oncology to vaccination support, Smileyscope’s VR solutions are adaptable, making them suitable for a wide array of medical procedures and treatments.

6.) Ongoing Innovation and Research: Smileyscope remains at the forefront of innovation. The company is continuously researching and developing new applications for its VR technology. This commitment to ongoing improvement ensures that Smileyscope’s solutions remain cutting-edge, offering the latest advancements in virtual reality for healthcare.

In essence, Smileyscope’s differentiators lie in its patient-centered design, evidence-based effectiveness, seamless integration with medical procedures, widespread adoption by reputable institutions, versatility in applications, and a commitment to continuous innovation. These factors collectively position Smileyscope as a leader in the healthcare-focused virtual reality landscape.”

Future Company Goals

What are some of the company’s future company goals? Dr. Chan concluded:

“As we look to the future, Smileyscope is driven by a vision to continue revolutionizing the healthcare experience for patients worldwide. Some of our key goals include:

1.) Expanding Application in Healthcare: We aim to expand the application of Smileyscope beyond its current focus areas. By identifying new medical procedures and scenarios where our technology can make a significant difference, we plan to diversify our offerings. This includes exploring applications in areas such as diagnostic procedures, mental and behavioral health, and chronic disease management.

2.) Enhancing Accessibility and Affordability: We are committed to making our technology more accessible to a broader range of healthcare institutions and patients. This involves working on solutions that are compatible with various VR devices, ensuring affordability without compromising on quality. By enhancing accessibility, we aim to reach underserved communities and provide them with the benefits of our innovative healthcare solutions.

3.) Strengthening Partnerships: Collaboration is at the heart of our growth strategy. We plan to forge strategic partnerships with healthcare providers, research institutions, and technology companies. By combining our expertise with the insights and resources of our partners, we can accelerate research, development, and adoption of our VR solutions. These partnerships will also enable us to explore new markets and enhance the impact of our technology globally.

4.) Continued Research and Innovation: Research and innovation are the cornerstones of our company. We will continue investing in cutting-edge research to further refine our VR experiences. By staying at the forefront of technological advancements, we can ensure that our solutions remain state-of-the-art and continue to deliver maximum benefits to patients and healthcare providers.

5.) Global Outreach and Impact: We aspire to expand our reach on a global scale. By collaborating with healthcare organizations and NGOs around the world, we aim to bring Smileyscope to regions where innovative healthcare solutions are needed most. Our goal is to make a positive impact on the lives of patients globally, regardless of their location or socioeconomic status.

6.) Advocacy and Awareness: We are dedicated to advocating for the integration of virtual reality technology in healthcare. By raising awareness about the benefits of VR in medical settings, we hope to drive industry-wide adoption. This advocacy includes engaging with policymakers, healthcare professionals, and the public to promote understanding and acceptance of VR-based interventions.”