Klick Labs creates device that directly simulates Parkinson’s tremors to boost empathy
What originally began as a request from a pharma client to help sales reps empathise with Parkinson’s patients, has now become Klick Health’s own project to increase understanding for all patients.
Klick’s digital innovation unit, Klick Labs, created a device to transmit tremors from a Parkinson’s patient to someone who doesn’t suffer from the disease, to illustrate its effects as realistically as possible.
For pharma companies, it’s a potential tool for sales-rep training and the device can show differences between patients who are treated and those who aren’t, Klick says, thereby opening potential for other applications.
The programmable SymPulse device connects a Parkinson’s patient to a second person. A sensor on the patient digitises and transmits tremors or muscle contractions, using electrical muscle stimulation, to a device worn by the non-patient. This then causes the receiver to feel the exact same things the patient does.
The research project has already proven Klick’s digitising physiology model—that tremors can, in fact, be transmitted using sensors and software. A second phase now under way will study the clinical benefits of enhancing empathy for conditions such as Parkinson’s.
“We know that empathy has clinical benefits for the patient and for the doctors, so increased empathy is a good thing. Not just on the feel-good level, but also clinically. Patients do better when doctors have increased empathy,” said Yan Fossat, VP, Klick Labs, adding, “[Now] we’re going to quantify the amount of empathy increase we can get with our device, and how long it lasts.”
As part of the project, Klick shot a video that explains the device and shows how it created empathy among the 43-year-old Smerdon twin brothers—Jim, who has early onset Parkinson’s disease, and Pat, who does not—and Jim’s wife, Deanna. After wearing the SymPulse and feeling his brother Jim’s tremors for the first time, Pat struggles to keep his composure, and then breaks up as he tries to explain how he felt. Jim says, “Nurses and neurosurgeons could experience it in almost real-time, and I think it will be a game-changer for them.”
Klick Labs is already working on a similar empathy device for COPD, Fossat said.
Other pharma companies are experimenting with using empathy to benefit patients. GlaxoSmithKline created its own empathy-engaging augmented reality device last year in a marketing campaign for Excedrin Migraine; it simulated migraine headaches for the loved ones of sufferers. Johnson & Johnson has purposefully added empathy to its consumer healthcare business strategy to differentiate its brands and drive beyond product messaging.
The goal of the Klick Labs research is first to confirm that the idea of tele-empathy is sound and can be applied to many different diseases, Fossat said. It will also look at the potential to facilitate diagnoses over distances, and in the future, test digital-model versions of drugs on digital versions of a patient.