Home People Former Humana CTO Aaron Gani Founds Virtual Reality Startup to Change Health Behaviors

Former Humana CTO Aaron Gani Founds Virtual Reality Startup to Change Health Behaviors

by Muriel Vega

Aaron Gani has always been a technologist, but it wasn’t until he caught what he calls the “healthcare bug” that he was exposed to what a massive industry chronic disease is: out of the $3.6 trillion that U.S. consumers spend on healthcare annually, 85 percent is driven by chronic disease.

During his 12 years as CTO at health insurance company Humana, Gani looked for an opportunity to help people lower these staggering numbers by investing in their own health.

“We have to find ways to actually help people change their behavior related to health,” Gani tells Hypepotamus. “Sometimes we take it for granted if we’re healthy, but if we’re not healthy it shoots right to the top of the list.”

That opportunity Gani sought became evident when he saw the release of consumer-friendly headset Oculus. Virtual reality began to grow exponentially within the healthcare industry, and the VR/AR healthcare market is now predicted to surpass $5.1 billion by 2025.

Gani envisioned an application of VR to help people change behaviors that contribute to chronic disease — specifically, chronic pain.

Gani’s Kentucky-based startup, BehaVR, uses VR to motivate healthy behavior in patients with stress-induced chronic pain.

“The key for us is that VR is uniquely psychologically powerful,” says Gani.

“If you pull out a smartphone, your brain’s model is just what it was before plus whatever is on that screen. VR is completely different. You replace two or more of your sensory inputs, usually at least vision and auditory. Most of your brain takes that as your new reality,” says Gani.

The objective of the therapy within BehaVR is to teach patients to be less reactive to stressful emotions and learn new tools to regulate and manage their emotional state. They also offer a program for those in addiction recovery.

“We teach people about chronic pain, how it works, and help them learn not to catastrophize pain signals, but instead learn to manage it themselves if there’s a bio-psycho-social connection under the pain,” says Gani.

Each patient using BehaVR receives a personalized experience each time they put on the headset, all powered by its proprietary Dynamic Experience Engine. The Engine manages the progress of the patient from session to session.

Each experience has three pillars: education, motivational content, and the activation of mindfulness and emotional regulation skill building.

Gani has a unique perspective after being on the payor side of the healthcare system — notably, reducing overall spend in the healthcare system.

“We have competitors that are selling their technology to hospitals [who] care about the patient experience and outcome. However, they don’t think a lot about moving the needle on spending,” he says.

The platform operates on a B2B2C SaaS licensing model that allows clinics to offer the tool to their patients. It’s currently being used by over a hundred clinical clients nationwide.

BehaVR plans to fundraise a Series A next year to scale its programs, says Gani. They will be working on channel development to acquire more customers including physical therapy clinics, employer sites, and home care agencies.

Gani has high hopes for the applications of mixed reality in the healthcare industry.

“Whether it’s physical or neuro-rehab, you’ll be using the visuals in VR and AR to guide people’s movement and… get them moving more than they thought they could.”

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