Diane Jooris is the Chief Scientific Officer of Oncomfort, a Belgian scale-up company active in Digital Therapeutics. She co-founded Oncomfort to make Digital Sedation™ available to patients. Digital Sedation™ is a non-pharmacological option for anxiety and pain management and for sedation, by delivering therapeutic virtual reality sessions.
Diane worked in MD Anderson Cancer Center (Houston, Texas) where she provided clinical hypnosis to patients undergoing surgeries and procedures. Diane felt that hypnotherapy combined with virtual reality technology, could provide a solution to create easy-accessible hypnotherapy, which formed the foundation of Oncomfort.
Diane is a mental health expert and holds a Master’s degree in clinical psychology as well as a Master’s degree in Law. She has trained extensively in several psychotherapeutic approaches
- How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
As a caregiver for my sister who was battling breast cancer, I saw the impact of pain and anxiety on my sister’s quality of life. I was doing my internship for my master’s degree in clinical psychology at a medication-free pain and addiction facility in Houston, Texas. One day, my mentor Christie Taylor told me “one of my patient’s spouse asked me what I would do with his wife if she starts screaming with pain during the night, and no therapist was available”. I thought about it the whole night, and found something interesting on internet: virtual reality. At this time, I was finishing my specialization in clinical hypnosis, and I was facing the limitation of this non-pharmacological option when delivered on a one-on-one basis. I thought: “what if VR was THE solution to deliver clinical hypnosis during surgeries-or at any other moment when a patient faces anxiety and/or pain – on a standardized and immersive basis, to allow him/her to manage pain and anxiety, and avoid intravenous sedation…” And this is where Oncomfort started.
While Oncomfort was born from my experience in oncology (Oncomfort being a contraction of the words oncology and comfort), Oncomfort today offers a solution which goes way beyond that scope, offering a new therapeutic option for pain and anxiety management in a large range of medical specialties such as anesthesia, surgery, interventional radiology, dentistry, pediatrics etc.
2. What’s your company’s vision?
By creating accessible Digital Therapeutics, we strive for anxiety- and pain-free patient care.
In our vision, the word ‘accessible’ is key. Oncomfort wants to make Digital Sedation™ accessible to patients who do not speak the language of the institution where they receive treatment. And make its implementation by healthcare professionals seamless.
3. What is unique about your business?
Oncomfort has worked, since its first days of existence, with researchers from leading academic institutions, to demonstrate scientifically the impact and positive clinical outcomes of its Digital Sedation™. Before any commercial availability, we had several clinical trials performed, and we collected enough data to illustrate both effectivity and the absence of side effects. We keep on working with major academic centers worldwide to illustrate the efficacy of our therapeutic option in a large range of countries, populations and clinical procedures and surgeries.
4. What is your biggest achievement so far?
Oncomfort’s biggest achievement is the realization of the truly scalable evidence-based solution that is now available as a certified medical device in more than 10 countries and in the language of the individual patient. So far, more than 65,000 patients have benefitted from Digital Sedation™ before, during or after their medical procedure. The first milestone in our vision has been achieved.
5. How do you see your company in 10 years?
We strongly believe Digital Sedation™ will become a global standard of care for a large number of surgeries and procedures, as it reduces the risks related to pharmacological sedation, increases patient safety, ensures patient satisfaction and comfort while improving both healthcare professionals’ work conditions and patient clinical outcomes. Digital Sedation™ will expand beyond acute care and surgeries and, will allow patients to reduce their need for medication for the management of a large range of symptoms during their medical journey. Oncomfort’s Digital Sedation™ is already available in several European countries. We are continuously expanding geographically, and strive for a global presence.
6. What are you like as an employer?
A strong team is key to the development of a company. At Oncomfort, each person has specific skills and competencies, for which they are excellent at. I decided early in the process of growing the company that I wanted to focus on research and development, and Oncomfort had the chance to be able to attract an extremely experienced CEO, Mario Huyghe, former CEO of Philips Belux, with an extensive experience in medical devices, anesthesia and digital therapeutics. We added progressively to the team both season professionals and young talents.
Oncomfort’s values are driving the company: passion, patient-focus, innovation leadership and co-creation. These values color our daily work and our strategic vision.
7. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the XR industry? How do you deal with them?
I see two main challenges.
This first one is the adaptation of XR platforms to specific needs of B2B businesses. This has improved over the last years but I believe in a need for better flexibility and customizability of the distribution and management platforms.
The second challenge is the need for more focus on scalable applications. In the field of Digital Therapeutics more specifically, the major challenge is to distance the content from the medium: doctors and nurses often talk about ‘using VR’. As a comparison: when a doctor gives a treatment to a patient, he or she does not prescribe a needle, but rather the type and dosages of the injected medication.
In the case of therapeutic VR, VR can be compared to the needle which vehiculates the active digital therapy components: the VR clinical sessions. These determine the effectiveness of VR-enabled therapy. These sessions need to be designed, tested and validated to reach specific clinical outcomes. They also need to be certified as a safe and effective medical device. Besides that, the medical world should be educated, and learn which are the criteria to ensure a safe and efficacious implementation of therapeutic VR on their patients (in terms of hygiene and disinfection, respect of regulatory and quality requirements, proper training of the teams etc.).
8. How do you handle adversity and doubt?
When you choose an entrepreneurial pathway, adversity and doubt come in the package. Doubt is part of our journey, and adversity happens.
Mitigation of adversity and doubt is mainly into the hands of a strong leadership team. Our CEO, Mario Huyghe builds a team with multidisciplinary knowledge, takes advice, listens to people, and at the end focuses on what is to be reached and makes informed decisions.
9. If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out in VR/AR, what would it be?
Do not start without passion, without a strong reason why.
10. Which habit do you wish you could break?
Extensive to-do list and overestimating what I can complete during a working day. I am learning every day that I cannot do it all. I have to choose my battles and stay focused on what really makes a difference.
11. What does creativity mean to you?
For me, creativity does not come out of the blue. It is about connections: using all the professional and private experiences, discussions with people from different cultures, passions, businesses, visions of the world… Store elements from various experiences as listening to a Ted Talk, walking in nature, discussing with patients, with friends, traveling… And then take the time to let things get still into your mind, like the snow sets on the ground of a snowball glass, and the pieces of the puzzle fall together naturally, as the dots connect between the experiences.
I do believe that the richness of co-creation, which is one of Oncomfort’s values, is crucial to the creative process. Our best ideas come from discussions with colleagues, doctors, nurses, patients, exchanging ideas back and forth and enjoying the process.
12. Which book has inspired you the most?
‘The Power of Now’ by Ekhart Tolle.
13. What do you do when you’re not at work?
I spend time with my family and my friends. I am a dancer and a musician. I love exercising (biking, ballet, bikram yoga…) reading, baking and eat as much chocolate as possible (I am a true Belgian). I also love planning very remote travels.
14. Who do you see as an inspiration in the industry? (Please name up to 3 people from the XR industry)
Shafi Ahmed, for his incredible energy and willingness to change medical education.
Skip Rizzo, a pioneer of therapeutic VR.
Denise Silber, creator of the VR for Health platform and Doctors 2.0.