A virtual reality program to help rural communities

Published on November 26, 2019

Technology allows us to share what we had for breakfast. We can make sure it looks good with filters and instantly share it with anyone, anywhere who has Wi-Fi. Erik Maltais and Jon Clagg thought, what else can it do?

They are creating a program for virtual reality where doctors can hone new skills. In April they won a $100,000 prize to continue to develop the software. 

Immersive Tech Inc. or Immertec founders Erik Maltais and Jon Clagg want to allow surgeons to virtually mentor other surgeons. 

Their goal is that specialty procedures can become more available no matter where you live. This would close the gap in care that more rural communities can face. 

“It really allows the physician to look to the left and to the right and to be completely immersed in that operating theatre,” said Erik Maltais, co-founder and CEO.

Immertec CEO Erik Maltais dishes on the latest in virtual reality for healthcare on a segment of Cheddar TV at the New York Stock Exchange.
The problem with specialties

He said that doctors today have limited time and flying across the country to learn a cutting edge procedure isn’t always feasible. 

Maltais said he came across this problem when his co-founder Jon Clagg wanted to do some kind of training software in virtual reality but they weren’t sure which industry needed it the most. 

The problem is that much of the cutting edge research and procedures that are done happen to be in only a few locations. 

“So, you have this problem where there’s general practitioners and even surgeons in these areas that just don’t have that [one] specific skill set,” said Maltais. 

This telemetorship programs aim to tackle one of the health problems in rural america. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, where hospitals and general practitioners do exist finding a specialist is close to impossible.

“What we’re building towards is being the platform that bridges that gap, that allows that specialty surgeon or any one of the group of specialty surgeons that are at the Cleveland Clinic, John Hopkins, Harvard, [sic] all these places to be able to be able to remote that expertise to a rural location in America or somewhere else in the world.”

According to Maltais, 60 percent of Americans don’t have access to Trauma level one and two if they are injured. 

The current field

For now, they allow medical device companies train people on their device using Immertec’s virtual-reality program. 

Maltais’ hopes for this program are that it will alter the way doctors access important information. 

The only current options for virtual training are slower and have a game-like feel to them instead of doctors being able to see the operation in real time. 

Here in Tampa, Immertec has found a place to continue their software development. Partly due to the fact that healthcare is a big business in Florida.

“Tampa specifically is one of the centers of excellence for orthopedics,” said Maltais. 

Immertec’s software works especially well in the orthopedic field.

In addition to the helpful proximity of healthcare professionals, Maltais said him and his co-founder have found that residents want Tampa to grow and to do well. 

“The number of people from the community who support us, reach out to us and want to see us succeed and do well is extraordinary.”

— Erik Maltais, CEO at Immertec.
Personal fulfillment

The ability to evoke change is what drove him to create and continue to work on this technology.

“I take the aspect of ‘what will I need in order to make this possible?’ and do I believe that this is worth giving my all to?” Maltais said.

His opinion is that if he doesn’t want to pursue something knowing full well it might fail but believing that it is worth the risk then it is not worth doing. 

“It needs to be something extraordinary,” he said, “Whatever I invest my energy into I want to really know that we’re changing something important or providing value to others.”

Sarah Smith is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Tampa, Florida, she primarily covers new tech and events.

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