Apple Vision Pro is generating plenty of buzz, and at least three health systems are buying into the spatial computing technology.
The company’s virtual reality headset, which went on sale Friday, has been met with skepticism from industry analysts who question whether consumers will pay the device’s hefty price tag of $3,499. By comparison, rival consumer VR set Meta Quest 3 costs $499.
But for Cedars-Sinai, Boston Children’s Hospital, Sharp HealthCare and other health systems, the latest VR and augmented reality device is worth the price. The health systems are testing applications on Apple Vision Pro aimed at training and educating clinicians, providing virtual therapy and more.
Here's what three systems had to say about Apple Vision Pro.
Boston Children’s training nurses on Apple Vision Pro
Unlike other virtual reality sets, the Apple Vision Pro provides both virtual and augmented reality environments, the latter of which combines virtual elements within the real world. The technology, which Apple calls spatial computing, is ideal for training nurses and healthcare workers in simulated situations, said Dr. Peter Weinstock, executive director at Boston Children’s Immersive Design Systems program.
Weinstock and Chief Innovation Officer John Brownstein worked with their teams to launch CyranoHealth, an app the health system developed specifically for Apple Vision Pro. The app is meant to help train nurses and other workers by simulating the intricacies of working with medical equipment, specifically IV pumps. The team envisions a future where nurses put on Apple Vision at the bedside while training on a virtual IV pump before working on the real device.
“This augmented reality component is quite novel,” Brownstein said. "It’s very realistic when you put an IV pump in your own world and experiment with it through the [application].”
Vision Pro doesn’t require users to hold devices, which is also novel. Because it works on the natural movements of a person’s hand, using it for equipment training is more realistic, Weinstock said.
Boston Children’s is in the early stages of a pilot with the app after purchasing an undisclosed number of Vision Pro devices, Weinstock said. The team plans to examine the device's effectiveness and whether it causes simulation sickness, a type of motion sickness commonly associated with virtual reality applications.
Cedars-Sinai trying virtual mental health therapy
Los Angeles-based Cedars-Sinai launched an application for mental health therapy within Apple Vision Pro called Xaia (eXtended-Reality Artificially Intelligent Ally). The app offers patients self-administered, artificial intelligence-enabled, conversational therapy in an immersive environment led by a digital robot called Xaia.
The robot is trained on large language models that were designed with Cedars-Sinai clinicians, said Dr. Brennan Spiegel, director of health services research at the health system and co-founder of the Xaia technology. Through the app, the robot will engage patients in conversational therapy while sharing breathing exercises and meditation.
The health system is offering the app to consumers for $4.99 per month. It also has purchased 10 headsets to deploy within the hospital when a mental health clinician isn't available. The app is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and users are not required to give any personal information, Spiegel said.
Through his work at Cedars-Sinai, Spiegel has led the development of apps for other VR sets and said he considers Apple’s technology far ahead of others in the marketplace. But he said the price of $3,499 will be a deterrent for many potential users and will likely have to come down over time.
“When the iPhone came out in 2007 it wasn’t cheap,” Spiegel said. “My hope is that in time, as more experience is gained with early adopters and the technology continues to improve, it becomes accessible to more people.”
Inside the hospital, the $3,499 cost is a rounding error for health systems like Cedars-Sinai, he said. As the health system struggles to recruit mental health clinicians to work within the hospital, he sees a return on investment for Apple Vision Pro and Xaia.
"Something like this could help us see more patients and address their mental health concerns," Spiegel said. "That's a pretty small price to pay in the larger context of the care."
Sharp HealthCare experimenting with Apple, Epic
San Diego-based Sharp HealthCare bought 30 Apple Vision Pros to test different use cases within its Prebys Innovation and Education Center, said Dan Exley, the health system’s vice president of clinical applications. The center opened in April 2023 and is used as a whiteboard for innovation ideas within the seven-hospital system.
The health system has convened a group of clinicians and software developers to test the device’s spatial computing capabilities. While Sharp hasn’t mapped out any official Vision Pro pilots, Exley said he sees potential in bringing data from the electronic health record, diagnostic imaging and other clinical systems together into an immersive application for clinicians.
“There’s only so much information you can fit on a giant rectangular screen, even if it’s an 80-inch TV screen hanging from the wall,” Exley said.
Sharp has been working with electronic health records company Epic to develop the application, Exley said.
A spokesperson for Epic confirmed the company has developed a spatial computing concept app that is available to Epic users on the Apple App Store. "Our goal was to quickly get some concepts out to the physician community to help generate ideas for how healthcare could take advantage of this new paradigm," the spokesperson said in a statement.
Exley said he expects to use the devices for 3D imaging for the system's radiologists. Pilots may start by year's end, he said.
“We take every dollar that we spend very seriously but we are convinced this will have value, and we're looking to understand what that value is quickly,” Exley said.