Dr. Bradley Tanner

President and Studio Head of Health Impact Studio

Bradley Tanner, MD is the technical and visionary lead of HealthImpact.studio and a physician Board Certified in Psychiatry and Obesity Medicine. At HealthImpact.studio, he guides the creation of VR game-based solutions to impact health by enhancing understanding of human biology, promoting health behaviors, identifying symptoms and intervene in the treatment of illness. His expertise as a psychiatrist and neuroscientist directs solutions that apply neuroscience principles and psychological theory to influence decision making, lifestyle change, and self-assessment. Topics of emphasis include reward systems as they impact opioid addiction, CNS and biome systems that affect nutritional food selection/obesity, risk-taking and alcohol use, and pain control.

As a technologist, Dr. Tanner’s passion for software development dates to the 70s and earliest days of PCs, to an exploration of AI/neural networks in the 90s, and grows to meet the ever-expanding potential of technology in the VR/AR era. He is skilled in object-oriented programming, computer standards such as XML, HTML5, and CSS, user interface/experience design, game design, development tools including C#, Unity, Git, and software project management standards including the Agile Development Model.

Following his psychiatric training and subsequent Attending Physician role at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Tanner left full-time academia in 1995 to pursue small business solutions and harness the potential of a commercial enterprise to access capital, build close customer relationships, and specifically target customers needs to enhance overall impact. His organization has received over $23M in federal awards in the past 22 years. Dr. Tanner now leverages his unique business, technological, and clinical background to develop and evaluate novel gaming solutions that engage and inspire an audience and simultaneously impact health or skills. Dr. Tanner remains involved in residency training and clinical care as a Clinical Associate Professor Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Dr. Tanner received his MD from the University of Virginia and Bachelors from Dartmouth College from his attendance at Dartmouth and Williams College. His home is in Chapel Hill, NC, but in the winter he can often be found in the mountains of Utah.

Talk Description:

The Untapped Potential of VR to Impact Health

VR holds can improve health by enhancing understanding of human biology, building problem-solving skills, and effecting change in behavior.

The talk will present 6 examples and 5 key elements to creating a VR game to impact health.
1) VR is a perfect environment to visualize complicated 3D structures like the human brain. In an experience where the player is inside the brain, a player can better understand the reward system – the driver of addition and the search for pleasure. Or brain processes involved in fear, anxiety, and stroke.
2) A VR game can reinforce food selection where the player is challenged with collecting healthy food and fighting off unhealthy food. By improving food choices, food selection, and cooking skills, the VR experience can impact the alarming rates of obesity and the downstream effects of obesity including diabetes, hypertension, and obstructive sleep disorders.
3) In VR, a player can engage in scenarios mirroring those that are stressful in real-life to aid in preparation and to anticipate future challenges. VR can counter more serious anxiety including phobias and PTSD with exposure, relaxation, and mindfulness.
4) Players can practice decision-making and build confidence in their ability to overcome challenges or to identify risky actions where the potential pay off is not worth the risk.
5) VR offers an opportunity to distract the player and counter pain from dental procedures or similar painful situations
6) The final example will show how in VR a player can see oneself differently and thus assist with amputee rehabilitation or correcting misperceptions of body image countered by virtual self-imaging.

A successful VR Game to impact health should provide 5 key elements:
1) Learner control and self-determination to allow the user to navigate the VR environment and identify personally relevant factors and strategies.
2) Choices, decision-making opportunities (e.g., quick, medium, slow), feedback, levels of improvement, and the potential for success/mastery demonstration enable health-related impact.
3) Successful VR games utilize experiential learning to enhance self-expression and creativity and drive intrinsic motivation to address unfamiliar topics and instill skills and understanding, empowerment, and confidence necessary for a lifestyle change and sustained effort during treatment.
4) Role-playing in VR engages the player in a cycle of practicing change by initial self-reflection, taking action, and then engaging in post-action reflection and planning that promotes longer-term real-world behavioral change.
5) Immersion instills flow or a sense of timelessness and focuses on the game at hand to optimize cognitive load and match skills to challenge.

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