Medical Cyberworlds: Using virtual technology to teach human skills

Company: Medical Cyberworlds

City: Madison

Website:

Started: 2006

Founder and President: Dr. Fred Kron – a doctor, cancer survivor and screen writer for such TV shows as “Star Trek” and “The Smurfs”

About the company: MPathic-VR is an interactive training platform to improve the interpersonal skills and bedside manner of medical professionals using “virtual human” patients that respond to users’ words, facial expressions and body language.

The problem to solve: Medical errors caused by faulty clinician communication, responsible for more than 400,000 deaths and $1 trillion in expenses in the United States annually

How the company is tackling that problem: Standard training through staged interactions is not effective or consistent. Through the training software, computer-generated feedback and scores provide unbiased data on strengths, weaknesses and progress over time.
“I’ve been on both sides of the discussion, and I’ve experienced the distress that people’s insensitivity can cause,” Kron said. “There needed to be a better way of teaching people how to develop trust and rapport by improving their communication behaviors. How do you discern and validate other people’s emotions? How can you make your patients and peers feel understood? How do you craft a win-win in crucial discussions?  We’ve created a patented technology that empowers and enables healthcare providers to learn those skills, by practicing with virtual human characters that listen and respond like real people.”

How working with Center for Technology Commercialization connected with solutions/funding:

  • Acquired two federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants through the National Institutes for Health (NIH)
  • Received an SBIR Advance grant through the CTC and Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation
  • Selected to participate in the NIH’s highly selective Commercialization Acceleration Program, which taught lean startup methodology to discover what potential customers want and are willing to spend
  • Added serial entrepreneurs from a growing advisory network to the company’s board of directors through mentorship from CTC as well as UW-Madison Small Business Development Center and Merlin Mentors

Results so far:

What’s next:

  • Seeking Phase III sole source federal contracts for a potential growth route
  • Working on NIH grants to fund additional content and research to drive technology adoption in target markets

Wow factor: Kron said it’s critical that the virtual human characters are believable and capable of evoking feelings of empathy. To that end, Medical Cyberworlds became a signatory to the Screen Actors’ Guild so the company can contract with professional actors to capture high-quality performances that are then vetted by experts for authenticity.

Applications beyond the medical field? Kron sees applications for this kind of training across a variety of fields. “If we can help take down communication barriers in general, just imagine the possibilities. I had a gentleman come up to me after using MPathic-VR, and he said ‘I gotta tell you, that stuff that you’re teaching me, those aren’t just skills you can use in medicine, those are life skills. My wife and I were having an argument last night, and I tried out the skills I learned from MPathic, and they worked!’ If our product could help people be better able to talk together, understand and empathize, wouldn’t that be a better world? It may sound like a reach, but that’s my dream.”