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Following a 20-year career in emergency medicine where she treated thousands of patients with chronic complex care conditions, Sonya Kim, MD, inspired by a patient’s lament of loneliness, founded One Caring Team to develop a virtual solution to a very real problem.
In an interview on the Breaking Health Podcast, Dr. Kim tells host Steve Krupa how conversation with Betty, an 88-year-old patient, hit her hard. “As a single woman without any kids, I couldn’t stop sobbing on the way home,” she recalled. “That’s why I decided to do something about social isolation in seniors.”
Using her expertise as an accomplished physician and Silicon valley entrepreneur (she received her medical degree from SUNY Stony Brook, her dual MBA from Columbia Business School and UC Berkeley, served as the chief resident at the MCP Hahnemann University Medical Center in Pennsylvania, and founded Best MD House Calls), Dr. Kim initially launched One Caring Team as a program offering emotional support through regular phone calls with “trained listeners,” aimed at building one-on-one relationships with clients. This had mild success.
However, she soon realized that there was demand to address the needs of patients with dementia and debilitating neurological disorders such as MS, who could not easily participate in the phone calls. That’s where virtual reality came in.
“People wanted to buy [the program] from me before I even began the development,” Dr. Kim explains, on the success she had in pitching her idea to give isolated seniors a sense of place, adventure, and support through a customized VR experience. Although in its early stages, her venture seems to be taking off. She even taught herself Unity Development, a cross platform game engine used to design VR content, in order to be able to work more closely with her team of developers.
But for Dr. Kim, it’s not simply about the business or the high tech – it’s about seeing the needle move on positive clinical outcomes and truly helping others reconnect to life in their loneliest moments.
According to recent studies, the US wastes hundreds of billions of dollars in health care costs associated with frequent emergency department visits and hospital readmissions – often for preventable causes in underserved communities, like the aging. Loneliness is not only highly common in geriatric populations, but is a known predictor for functional decline, adverse health effects, and even death. Yet evidence has also shown that those who have regular interactions or experiences with truly caring individuals also have a higher quality of life.
“America doesn’t know what to do with social isolation. Period,” states Dr. Kim.
Learn about One Caring Team’s unique business approach to health care and VR by listening to the full episode here.