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Efforts to stop the spread of infection highlight need for Immertec’s VR tools

Margie Manning

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Immertec hardware at USF Health CAMLS

When Erik Maltais co-founded Immertec in 2017, one of his focuses in creating virtual reality training for physicians was to reduce infections in the operating room.

Fast forward to 2020, and his vision seems prescient, as health care professionals work to combat the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus.

“We saw we could reduce the risk of infection in the operating room by simply taking unnecessary foot traffic out of the OR,” Maltais said. “This has brought one of our main features to the forefront.”

Immertec, a Tampa company with a virtual reality platform for medical device companies to train their physician customers in real-time, has been gaining traction even before coronavirus took over the national consciousness. The company last year captured top awards from Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest and from TiECON Florida, among others, and raised $6 million in a funding round led by Benvolio Group in New York. Immertec also is a PitchLyst company.

Now, Immertec has a new research agreement with University of South Florida. Collaborative research will be carried out at the USF Health Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS) in downtown Tampa to investigate the effectiveness of immersive training in medical education.

“We feel that it’s important to validate the technology you are building, to actually have science that shows whether it is good or bad and that you can learn from,” Maltais, Immertec CEO, said in an interview with the St. Pete Catalyst.

Universities need to stay on the cutting edge of research, Maltais said. While there’s been a lot of research in many other  aspects of health technology, there hasn’t been as much done in VR medical training, he said.

“This technology is a game-changer for the future of medical and surgical education. Real-time virtual reality can help augment or even replace traditional training modalities for physicians and health care providers,” Dr. Haru Okuda, executive director of CAMLS and assistant vice president for USF Health Interprofessional Education and Practice, said in a news release.

The study will focus on testing the effect of immersive technology on participants’ learning and performance outcomes during medical education tasks. Immertec will provide virtual reality equipment and hardware setup for use during medical training sessions at CAMLS.

The partnership has been developing since Maltais was on a panel discussion with CAMLS officials during the Synapse Summit in 2019.

“It took a little while to formalize the relationship but they see the value in training people without the spreading the risk of infection,” Maltais said. “There’s the cost component, what it costs to have someone travel and observe a training. There’s the burden on the physician who has to travel to do the training, there’s a cost there too, and the time away from family and private practice.  And then of course there’s the risk of infection in the operating room, because of unnecessary body traffic there.”

The research collaboration with USF differs from Immertec’s commercial relationships with customers.

“This is focused on researching the technology we have. We will use it in CAMLS lab and we will be doing studies on it. There will be an internal review board to make sure our studies are humane and ethical, and then we will publish. We will be applying for government grants jointly together that would fund it,” Maltais said.

The research is another tool for Immertec’s rapid growth, fueled in part by last year’s capital raise.

“We needed to solidify the hardware solution. We needed a very sophisticated piece of hardware that looks like it belongs in an operating room and that doesn’t take up a big footprint and that could be rolled in and set up and turned on very simply, with just a few steps,” Maltais said. “Since we raised the money, we moved into our new location, we set up our processes, we are hiring people and building the hardware. We completed that this quarter. We’re in production right now with a number of units in order to be able to deploy.”

He expects to roll out the new units over the rest of the year.

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