Dynamic Business spoke with Vantari VR co-founders and co-CEOs Dr Vijay Paul and Dr Nishanth Krishnananthan about how doctors and students across Australia are using their virtual reality platform to learn from immersive simulations that mimic real-life medical procedures.
Since 2017, the Vantari team has been on a mission to improve the delivery of training and education in healthcare through virtual reality (VR). The technology is being used by clinicians to help train junior doctors in life-saving procedures across major national hospitals, including Royal Prince Alfred, Westmead, Nepean, and Fiona Stanley.
“Vantari is a disruptor in the education space, improving upon traditional modalities of training such as cadavers, mannequins, online modules and videos, which all have their own limitations when it comes to teaching,” Dr Vijay Paul told Dynamic Business.
“There is also an emerging body of evidence that it reduces medical error as compared to traditional modalities which has huge human cost and health economic cost implications. We are future-proofing the delivery of education and training, and Vantari is currently the bridge between never having done a procedure, to finally doing it on a real patient.”
The Vantari VR platform benefits doctors and students alike by giving them the opportunity to perfect critical procedures in a safe, scalable manner while ensuring that training is accessible, repeatable, and scalable.
“There is a flow on effect to achieving proficiency quicker, as well as reduction in user medical error when it comes to delivering care to a patient,” Dr Krishnananthan told Dynamic Business.
“There are also health economic benefits, ranging from operational savings such as resource utilisation all the way to decreased length of stay as a result of reduction of patient complications from procedures.”
The story behind Vantari VR
Vantari VR was founded in 2017 by Vijay Paul and Nishanth Krishnananthan – two doctors who have over 10 years of clinical experience each and who share common interests in healthcare and technology.
“Nish and I met on the first day of our internship at Bankstown and Campbelltown Hospital. We bonded over many night shifts, often being the only two doctors in the wards at the hospital,” Dr Paul says.
“We soon found that we had a great working relationship, and we were able to deal with difficult situations well. This foundation translated to our personal lives as well, where we had a lot of common interests including technology.”
Vantari’s third co-founder and current Chief Technology Officer, Daniel Paull, brings over 20 years of technical experience to the company working with 3D systems, virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence. Collectively, the team boasts a breadth of talent – from clinicians and software programmers to 3D modellers from Marvel and Disney.
“Given the many years of clinical experience, we noticed a huge array of healthcare problems which could benefit from an emerging technology such as VR. We had an ambition to impact and improve healthcare as a whole, rather than one patient at a time as clinical doctors,” Dr Krishnananthan says.
“We spoke to over 150 doctors, healthcare stakeholders, and students to make sure our idea and technology was worth building. There was an overwhelming demand – from patient education to surgical planning to medical training. We knew from these conversations that there was not only customer appetite but also a market ripe for disruption.”
How does Vantari VR work?
Vantari VR is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) virtual reality platform that offers procedural training for medicine and surgery through a VR headset powered by a computer.
“Once you pop on our headset, you see a photorealistic environment such as an operating theatre with a hospital bed, medical equipment modelled to high accuracy and a virtual patient in various positions according to the procedure,” Dr Krishnananthan says.
“It is completely immersive with a 360-degree visual field and sound, and you are able to interact with both the equipment and patient to perform the procedure. You feel various steps such as injecting anaesthetic or making an incision through haptics via vibration in the controllers in your hands.”
The VR technology integrates data analytics, AI powered insights, and performance tracking to inform users about progress and to help improve outcomes.
“You get to perform the procedure from start to finish according to the college guidelines. At the end, you can log in to our learning management system to view how you performed, as well as how you fared in comparison to your peers and, more importantly, college recommendations,” Dr Paul says.
The Vantari VR platform covers 90 per cent of the procedures that are part of clinicians’ core training, including junior doctor training, emergency medicine, intensive care, and anaesthetics.
“Vantari is currently in the growth stage, continuing to build an ecosystem of VR medical procedures based on customer demand while commercialising as a B2B SAAS business to hospitals, universities and medical device companies,” Dr Krishnananthan says.
“We have the scope to apply our technology to a number of specialities such as cardiology or paediatric medicine or even nursing and allied health. In the future, we believe haptics will mature to a point where fine touch and movements can be replicated in the virtual environment, opening up the opportunity to teach a multitude of complex and technically sophisticated surgeries.”
From start-up to Epic Games Mega Grant recipient
The Vantari team has faced a number of challenges common to start ups and SMEs, especially those operating in the areas of health – which Dr Paul says has less support than other areas “in part because health tech is a long arc of development and implementation.”
“Healthcare is slow at adapting new technologies and this is more pronounced in Australia. Add to that VR, which in itself is a relatively new technology. This meant that people were hesitant about its potential in medicine,” Dr Paul says.
Vantari VR entered the market with two accelerators – NSW Health and Cicada Innovation in 2017 and the HCF Catalyst program in 2018. The company also secured the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) grant in 2018 and the Accelerating Commercialisation (AC) Grant in 2019.
“We believe grants are a great way to help both in the initial stages of your company as well as during scale while in parallel driving exposure. We are still looking at larger grants here in Australia that are in partnership with university bodies or other organisations, as well as international grants to drive pilot partnerships overseas,” Dr Krishnananthan says.
“As we are in the health technology space, the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Medical Device Fund (NHMRC) are possibilities for us, although we do face a greater challenge in the evaluation process as we are not considered a traditional device or pharmaceutical. The situation is improving, however, as digital health is gradually becoming better understood.”
In 2020, Vantari VR received a grant of $131 thousand AUD from American video game developer giant Epic Games – the creators of the successful online game Fortnite – as part of its Epic MegaGrants program.
“The funding from Epic MegaGrants is life-changing, not just for us, but for all of the up-and-coming doctors whose training will now be fine-tuned and fast-tracked, and for the thousands of patients whose lives will be saved by the drastic reduction in medical error,” Dr Krishnananthan says.
“Vantari VR is a clinician-led business, rather than being a tech firm trying to enter the medical space, which gives us a considerable advantage in getting where we need to go with the platform. The grant gives us confidence that we’re on the right track and that the momentum is very much there.”
The future of healthcare
Dr Krishnananthan and Dr Paul anticipate that technology – including virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics – will have a strong impact on the way that medical training and patient care is delivered.
“We have a global vision to eliminate medical error and save patient lives. We believe Vantari VR will be a global company with a footprint across all the continents and helping a number of specialties and fields in medicine, from doctors to nurses to students and other health practitioners,” Dr Paul says.
“We are planning to build an ecosystem of connected procedures and the aim is to have this integrated into international college curriculums. Vantari VR will be a place of innovation, with a team that is working on high impact applications for health, saving lives and riding the wave to a digital health tech unicorn.”
Despite the ongoing challenges posed by COVID-19, the Vantari team is using the time to focus on accelerating conversations around future-proofing education, showcasing their offerings, and scaling their team and technology.
“Doctors and students have struggled to use traditional resources due to social distancing restrictions as well as seniors being deployed to COVID-facing activity in healthcare, meaning training has been impacted immensely from simulation centres to daily training at hospitals and universities. Vantari solves this for healthcare,” Dr Paul says.
Vantari VR is open to pilot partnerships in the APAC and US regions and the team’s goal is to secure $2 million AUD in funding as part of their current capital raise.
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