Sharecare aims to drive behavior change with VR acquisition

Sharecare chairman and CEO Jeff Arnold (left) and Dr. Mehmet Oz (right) discuss how BioLucid's VR technology can help stakeholders gain a deep understanding about conditions and treatments.

Virtual reality is about pulling people's emotional strings to drive behavior change, said Sharecare chairman and CEO Jeff Arnold during Advertising Week in New York. And, that's why the digital health company announced plans to acquire VR developer BioLucid, the digital health company's eleventh acquisition.

With the acquisition of BioLucid, Sharecare hopes to immerse stakeholders — patients, healthcare providers, and payers — through anatomical simulations of the human body, so they can better understand disease states, treatments, and therapies using BioLucid's health content. The simulations can be viewed with or without a VR headset across Sharecare's web and mobile applications.

Sharecare on Thursday announced the acquisition during an interview with celebrity physician Dr. Mehmet Oz at Advertising Week.

See also: How Can Marketers Best Unleash the Potential of Virtual Reality?

Arnold likened the technology to the Google Maps of the human body.

“If we could build out every organ, every disease state, every therapy in every device and allow people in a very immersive way to see their body in that light, it can be a very powerful medical education tool,” said Arnold. “And from that comes a lot of benefits. If you've got a Google Maps model, marketers can tap into those assets and use it to do their own storytelling.”

But what Arnold is most excited about is using BioLucid's VR technology as an empathy tool. He said VR can put people in the shoes of a doctor who is treating a diabetes patient, or it can be used to show one of the 80 million people in the U.S. who are prediabetic “what life looks like when you're diabetic, how they have to think about the world differently, from insulin, to what they buy in the grocery store, to how they talk to their family,” said Arnold.

The technology has the potential to provide a deep understanding of what a condition or treatment means to a person, and drive behavior change, which in turn encourages better health outcomes for patients and reduces hospital readmissions, said Arnold.

Lawrence Kiey, co-founder, chairman, and CEO of BioLucid, added that it makes patients' visits to their physicians more efficient and effective.

See also: What pharma brands can learn from Lions Health

“The truth of the matter is that when we did this study with [hospital system] HCA, the amount of time that the physician spent on the patient was less [than before],” Kiey said at a separate panel talk at Advertising Week. “It focused the conversation on where it needed to be versus a patient coming in and having a list of ten, twenty questions, and causing the conversation to derail. When they forced the conversation and brought it to a visual experience, within a minute, that patient was understanding what the numbers really meant.”

Kiey said BioLucid's VR technology has been useful when used to educate patients about challenging conditions such as heart failure, a condition that is often difficult for patients to understand.

“By using our platform, we were able to show them exactly the size of their heart based on their condition,” said Kiey. “We personalized it down to that level by saying, ‘That's actually my heart so you know what? I need to change my behavior.' And now they go home, they talk to their family members, they're having a much different dialogue, and that's the secret of it all.”

The executives did not disclose the financial terms of the deal, but Arnold said that it is part of Sharecare's greater strategy of consolidating all health information and records in one place on a patient's phone to build a health profile.

In July, Sharecare acquired population health business Healthways for $30 million in common stock, adding 1,700 employees to the company. Some of Sharecare's other acquisitions include voice analysis company Feingold Technologies, online health community platform QualityHealth, and Bactes, a provider of release of information and audit management services.

See also: The truth about a doctor's day: know-it-all patients and no time for lunch

Part of that strategy, to create a tool to house all of a patient's health information and records in one place, is a cue taken from the financial-services industry.

“We got inspired looking at financial services because we said, ‘I don't have 12 apps on my phone to manage my money, and I don't think I'm going to have that for my health and wellness,'” said Arnold.