How To Make Health Technology Fun and Accessible: Interview with Osso VR Co-Founder and CEO Justin Barad

Justin Barad is an orthopedic surgeon who has found a way to combine his two passions: gaming and healthcare.

The self-proclaimed tech nerd has always loved video games — he even worked at the video game company Activision. His plan was to go into the gaming industry, but when a family member experienced health issues he began to wonder whether he could use his technology background to help people and solve challenges in the medical field.

In pursuit of his passion, Justin received a bioengineering degree from University of California Berkeley and a medical degree from UCLA.

During his residency at UCLA, Justin saw issues with the way institutions train and assess healthcare professionals, especially surgeons.

The problem is threefold:

  1. There’s too much to learn, especially considering the speed with which science and technology is expanding.
  2. Modern surgery is complicated and newer procedures are harder to learn than more traditional ones.
  3. There’s no real way to assess technical proficiency in healthcare.

“I’d be in multiple surgeries where people would ask me to Google what to do, find a video or technique guide, and it felt off to me,” Justin says.

Justin discovered virtual reality through the Oculus Rift DK1. He thought it was an “incredible solution” to the surgical training problem.

He and his business partner, Matt Newport, developed a prototype VR platform. They won an award and garnered interest from investors, and then in 2016 started Osso VR, which is now the leading virtual reality surgical training and assessment platform.

Osso VR’s technology — a VR headset and controllers — creates clinically accurate simulations with a cinematic level of visual fidelity. The platform allows surgeons to measure their growth with analytics both inside and outside of the platform.

In this episode of Medsider, Justin shares how he avoids being pulled in multiple directions with his technology, why it’s important to let potential customers get hands-on with your platform, and why tech can and should be fun — even in healthcare.

Guest

Justin Barad, MD

CEO of Osso VR

Justin Barad, MD, is Co-Founder and CEO of Osso VR. An orthopedic surgeon with a passion for technology and a history of working in the video game industry, he developed a virtual reality platform that can reform the way surgeons are trained and assessed.

Key Learnings from Justin’s Experiences

  • Keep your eye on the prize. There are a lot of great ideas out there, and it can be tough to cut through the noise. Set clear goals for your product and your company, and follow through.
  • Find new ways to spotlight your product and get it into people’s hands. Go where your potential customers are and let them try the product for themselves. Medical conferences are a great place to interact with healthcare professionals.
  • Make your product fun, accessible, and easy to use. Healthcare professionals can be hesitant to try new technology. Developers and engineers need to show their products are not only safe, but also that they provide benefits over legacy technology.

Set Clear Goals for Your Company and Your Product

In the early days of building a company and developing a product, you’ll work primarily with customers who tend to be early adopters of new technology and have innovative ideas.

For Justin, one of the biggest challenges of working with VR is knowing that it could be used for practically anything. People have a lot of ideas about how it should work or what it can do, and there are endless opportunities. But Justin had a vision — he wanted to use VR to improve the way surgeons are trained — and he stuck to that vision.

As a surgeon, he had the insight and expertise to identify a problem in the healthcare space and come up with a solution.

Justin shares his advice for key steps you can take to ensure you don’t get pulled in a hundred different directions.

1. Stay focused on the mission.

Focus is critical when you’re developing a new technology and a new business, Justin says. Come into the project with a clear point of view — know what you want your technology to do, how it can be used, and who you want to target. And work with people who can help you along the way.

Raising money is not the goal; the goal is to do something with the capital that you raise, Justin says.

“You really need to show what this could be. What is the size of the opportunity? What is the vision, and is that achievable? And you need to be able to get people to believe that and buy in on it,” Justin says.

2. Partner up with an expert in the field.

Coming into something without a lot of knowledge can be scary and overwhelming — you need to not only understand the clinical challenge, but also know how to build a successful product, how to scale the technology, and how to build a scalable business model. You’re going to want to listen to everybody, but that could just lead to a “spaghetti against the wall approach,” Justin says.

Find a partner who has domain expertise and can help navigate the waters, Justin says. Working with someone who has a core knowledge set and knows the space in which you’re working is truly important, Justin says.

3. Care about the problem, not just the tech.

It’s not enough to just understand the problem. You have to really care and be excited about it, Justin says. Starting a company is unbelievably challenging, but also can be truly exhilarating, he adds.

You should be able to wake up every day, thrilled to be tackling a problem that you are passionate about. Caring about the problem is just as important as caring about the technology, Justin says.

Let Potential Users Get Hands-On with Your Technology

Find new ways to get your product in front of healthcare professionals. Let them see and use the technology before they buy it.

Surgeons are overwhelmed with the myriad of choices that are available to them and it’s difficult to comprehend the differences between products, Justin says. If you can get surgeons in front of your technology and let them try it themselves, then they can see why it’s so important or useful.

“You can’t just speak to it; you have to show it to someone,” Justin says.

How do you do that? Healthcare conferences are a great place to start, but that’s been difficult during the pandemic since so many conferences have been canceled and people just aren’t coming in the same numbers as pre-pandemic.

Despite that, Osso VR is still investing a lot of time and money in conferences. But Justin is also contemplating alternative opportunities for getting the word out about his product.

Companies should be thinking about how they can create new avenues to show off their products and bring in new customers. Letting people try the product before they buy it, and perhaps even engaging them in training opportunities, could “supercharge” the sales process and make everything much more efficient, Justin says.

Make it Accessible and Make it Fun for People to Use

The healthcare industry follows a “one-and-done” approach. That is, doctors try new technologies once but then often never go back. Some are worried the newer technology feels less safe and will often revert back to using the tried-and-true modalities.

Engineers and developers need to show medical professionals that their product is not only safe but that it also provides a benefit over the older, legacy options.

In the world of surgery, for instance, there are simulation technologies that are used for training, but they typically are designed for a single type of procedure. They’re also expensive and not portable. On top of that, the current simulation technology on the market doesn’t decrease costs for hospitals, nor does it improve patient outcomes.

Surgeons also often have to take time to travel to simulation labs for training, which is distracting from their day-to-day practice.

Osso VR’s technology solves these issues. The headset is low-cost, coming in at $300 each. The price and portability of the technology means you could theoretically get one for every single healthcare professional in the world, he says. It uses vibrations to train doctors and provide immediate feedback on their technique. It’s even lighter (and cheaper) than a lot of medical textbooks.

“You can be fully immersed in the operating room and any procedure and simulate high-fidelity visuals and interactivity and basically train on any procedure you want,” Justin says.

Accessibility, affordability, and portability are all part of what sets Osso VR apart from the rest of the technology in the medical care training arena.

A doctor could use the Osso VR platform to practice in between cases or even between surgeries, or they can do it in the comfort of their own home, Justin says.

Justin also suggests looking at what engineers and developers are doing in other spaces, like video games and entertainment, and try to create experiences that are just as fun and easy to use.

“Is anyone going to use this in the first place? Is it fun? Is it easy to use? Or do they have a reason to come back? These are often considerations I don’t see people talking about, and I think that’s something that we’ve really focused on that I think is going to pay off,” Justin says.

Technology is changing healthcare, and doctors and surgeons need cutting-edge tools to keep up. Understand what healthcare professionals need and want, and focus on finding a solution that hospitals and medical experts will want to use again and again.

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