An Australian health insurance agency, Medibank, has helped collaborate with a virtual reality studio, LiminalVR, to produce a virtual reality app called  “Joy.” Designed to be used for patients admitted to the hospital, Joy offers an immersive auditory and visual experience. The goal of Joy is to reportedly help alleviate inpatient loneliness and boredom, through storytelling in virtual reality.

After patients place the virtual reality headset on (the mobile VR Google Daydream system is used), they are whisked into a virtual outdoors environment. Joy features computer-generated characters relaxing around a campfire and allows the user to interact with each one through the use of a VR controller. The characters share stories with the patient, and are geared towards bed-bound patients. There isn’t any walking around or room scale tracking utilized, it’s purely head-tracking through Google Daydream.

Virtual reality for loneliness isn’t a new idea. It’s been used predominantly to help address elder loneliness, in the outpatient and assisted living environments. However, Joy is the first virtual reality app that I’ve heard of produced through a health insurance company. Medibank covers roughly 3.8 million individuals, and is the largest provider in Austraila. An inpatient study using Joy is reportedly being carried out at Brunswick Private Hospital in Melbourne, and, pending results of the study, may be rolled out to other area hospitals.