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Stories can cut VR sickness

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A storyline with emotionally evocative details can reduce virtual reality cybersickness for some people, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo found that storylines that provide context and details can help users feel immersed in VR experiences and can reduce feelings of nausea, disorientation and eye strain, depending on a user’s gaming experience.

“We found that people who had little to no experience playing video games had reduced cybersickness if they received this enhanced narrative, but regular video gamers did not need it because they were not predisposed to feeling symptoms,” said Séamas Weech, a postdoctoral fellow in Kinesiology and a member of Waterloo’s Games Institute. “What that tells us is that the actual design of the VR simulation’s storyline itself can reduce the negative impact some people experience with VR technology.”

The researchers recruited 42 participants from the University, then 156 at a new media technology exhibition in Kitchener, Ontario, and had them experience virtual reality. Before entering the simulation, the participants listened to a story about what they were about to experience, but half were given bare-bones details, and the other half were given an enhanced narrative, which included emotionally evocative details.

All participants who heard the enhanced story reported significantly more “presence” in VR – the feeling of being there – but only the non-gamers experienced reduced cybersickness.

“People with little gaming experience are highly sensitive to conflicts between VR technology and the information they are taking in,” said Michael Barnett-Cowan, a Kinesiology professor and member of the Games Institute. “Enriched narratives seem to enhance presence and reduce cybersickness due to the decreased focus on problems with the multiple inputs to their senses.”

“What’s really striking is that we saw the benefits of enriched narratives across a sample of people from 8 to 60 years of age. This brings us closer to an inclusive way to enhance experiences in virtual reality through game design,” said Sophie Kenny, a postdoctoral researcher at the Games Institute.

Weech, Kenny, and Barnett-Cowan conducted the study with graduate student Markus Lenizky (Kinesiology). The study appears in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies.

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How social distance has transformed health services

The COVID-19 crisis has quickly transformed healthcare, ranging from hospital protocols to how doctors see patients, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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A doctor friend recently came into contact with a patient who had been exposed to a family member who had contracted coronavirus. In line with protocols his clinic had adopted in addressing the COVID-19 crisis, he had to be tested himself and then self-isolate for 14 days.

While he waited for the test results, he set up his practice at home, and moved all appointments from physical to telephonic and video-conferenced consultations. And a remarkable thing happened: he was able to see far more patients in far less time. No less than 50 consultations were completed in the first few days.

This is a scenario that is playing itself out across the world.

A week before the lockdown began in South Africa, Discovery Health announced that it was expanding access to its online doctor consultation platform, DrConnect. It invited members who thought they were ill or thought they may have symptoms to do virtual consultations with their doctors.

The benefit was obvious, said the medical insurance provider: “This will prevent medical facilities from becoming overcrowded with people, possibly spreading infection to others.”

To avoid members rushing to use the facility, it required them to visit a COVID-19 hub and answer a series of “risk assessment questions” to determine if they needed to have a virtual consultation. If your own doctor is not available, a dedicated COVID-19 Care Team of doctors is on standby, and the patients are guided through a few steps to book the virtual consultation.

Last week, the service went a step further: Vodacom partnered with Discovery to offer the benefit to all South Africans during the pandemic.

“Globally, telemedicine has proved invaluable in the management of this disease, with many governments and healthcare systems advocating for digital healthcare tools and virtual consults to be the first step and primary means of healthcare support during the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Vodacom in a statement. “The COVID-19 risk assessment and virtual healthcare tools can help to identify people who need health professional engagement and a potential referral for testing or to a hospital.”

The service also helps to bridge the digital divide between the privileged who have the tools and data for videoconferencing and the less privileged who can barely afford data on their smartphones. The online healthcare platform is available on any web or mobile phone, and allows for a full consultation with a doctor through video or audio calls, or by text.

Vodacom and Discovery have also jointly created a fund to pay doctors for approximately 100 000 consultations, making them free to any South African.

“Our partnership with Discovery can go a long way in alleviating any increased pressure on healthcare practitioners while at the same time empowering citizens by connecting them to doctors,” says Vodacom group CEO Shameel Joosub. “As a leading technology company, we are optimistic about the capabilities of digital connectivity to transform the lives of our communities. Through the online doctor consultation platform, anyone looking for COVID-19 related information will be connected to a network of doctors who will be readily available to answer their questions.”

Adrian Gore, CEO of Discovery Group, says the initiative is in line with the company’s core purpose: making people healthier.

“In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic that purpose is very simple – we need to keep South Africans out of harm’s way,” he says. “We are very hopeful that this initiative will make a huge impact on the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa – for the good of all our citizens.”

It is no only ordinary individuals but doctors, too, who have to climb the steep learning curve towards the new world and ways of healthcare.

My own general practitioner has resisted new technology for years. Now, his smartphone has become a lifeline for his patients, and a tool to protect himself as far as it is practical.

Doctors have also been invited to download the Discovery HealthID and DrConnect apps to join the virtual healthcare platform. Those who are behind the technology curve receive guidance on how to consult, as well as how to receive payment from a dedicated fund that Discovery and Vodacom have set up for these specific consultations. A total of 10,000 free consultations are initially being provided as part of the service.

This service, and similar ones globally, will mark a watershed in the history of telemedicine, defined by the US Health Resources and Services Administration as “distribution of health-related services and information via electronic information and telecommunication technologies”.

It is not a new concept in South Africa. As far back as 2008, Cape Town social entrepreneur Marlon Parker founded an organisation called RLabs – for Reconstructed Living Labs – in a marginalised community known as Bridgetown. The initial purpose was to counsel drug addicts, and its primary tool was the now-defunct instant messaging tool Mxit.

The service expanded into Mxit Reach, which create free mobile educational, health care, agricultural and community resources. While Mxit is gone, RLabs still focuses on skills training and economic empowerment opportunities.

It showed how even the most basis cellphone could be roped in to change people’s lives, at a distance. More than a decade later, the entire health industry is waking up to the need and the benefit of such approaches.

Visit the next page to read about how to get an online doctor’s appointment.

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Dell offers deferment of payment for financed IT

Dell Technologies South Africa announces payment deferment options for new and existing customers

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To help organisations limit the unprecedented pressure put on their cash flow and financing by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dell Technologies South Africa is announcing payment deferment options for current and new customers financed through Dell Financial Services (DFS).

DFS offers 3- and 6-month payment deferment on end-user devices and enterprise systems bought by South African companies, covering financing arrangements from R250,000 to R15 million. Once the deferment has been applied for and processed, subject to credit approval, buyers of end-user devices can enjoy a delay of up to 3 months, while enterprise systems buyers can do so for up to 6 months.

The deadline for deferment approvals closes on 31 July – it requires 10-14 days to process applications, so do not hesitate. By successfully applying for the deferment, a company can delay payments for its financing contract with DFS as well as gain protection against the volatile Rand/Dollar exchange rate.

DFS customers also have the benefit of locking in a rate today. Interest will be compounded at the lowest rate, decided on a case-by-case. In addition, Dell will support extended warranties to include the added deferment period.

New customers can take advantage of the offer to begin their technology modernisation and refreshment projects. This deferment is an opportunity to secure their organisations’ futures further, pending on credit approval. Talk to a Dell consultant today on the best technology options, and delay payments while enjoying the advantages from the start. The deferred payment offer is only applicable to financed transactions.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is creating unexpected and unusual financial pressures for South African companies,” said Monique Watson at Dell Financial Services. “We want to support local companies and the economy during this difficult period, enabling them to continue their growth and output without worrying that their modernisation investments will be undone. If we all stand together, we can overcome the damage of this pandemic.”

Organisations can start applying today and reap the benefits within 14 days. Don’t delay – the deadline for approvals is 31 July 2020. Deploy now, pay later, and enjoy some cash flow relief with Dell Financial Services’ payment deferment offer.

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