New, emerging technologies are turning patients into savvy healthcare consumers with higher expectations around the services they receive. From wearables to telemedicine, virtual and augmented reality, 3D imaging, and artificial intelligence, patients are increasingly drawn to cutting-edge experiences, similar to what they experience in their everyday lives as consumers. Healthcare organizations are taking notice. More and more, they are beginning to understand that one of the best ways of getting new patients and managing current patients is to offer and incorporate innovative and emerging technology within their practice – what would be seen in most business practices as adding value.
Augmented and virtual reality
One organization pushing the boundaries of emerging technology in healthcare is the Cleveland Clinic, which is working on a project that aims to revolutionize anatomical education through augmented and virtual reality (AR / VR). Andrew Moan, General Manager for Virtual and Augmented Reality Medical Devices at the Cleveland Clinic, explained the project’s significance.
“The challenge with traditional cadaver-based learning is that cadavers may not be representative of a particular patient case. Some countries don’t even authorize the use of cadavers, so it’s not an efficient way to learn,” he said.
“Now, imagine if you could have a 3D representation of a heart, for instance, not only to look at, but also to interact with. We’re taking the standard medical syllabus and converting it into a reference library for creating 3D assets, so that students can experience an environment that they can swipe around and explore on a range of devices, whether it’s mobile, PC or VR.”
Not only can this provide a standardized way for medical professionals to understand the human body, it also has the potential to transform patient education with the ability to show patients their condition and exactly what is going on inside their bodies.
Moan highlighted the value of machine learning in creating these experiences, through its ability to automate the identification of features like bones and veins in a CT scan, in order to create a 3D model. He believes that eventually, we will reach a point where artificial intelligence can be applied to make decisions based on these models – potentially in the future, automating diagnoses.
In addition to education, the Cleveland Clinic is also looking at the patient experience as another area that can be transformed through VR. He pointed to pediatrics in particular, where VR could be used as a tool to transport children away from frightening medical environments.
Thinking ahead of the technology curve
As technologies continue to advance, healthcare organizations will need to be aware of new innovations, and new ways to use and integrate them. One of the ways that organizations such as Vanderbilt University Medical Center are doing this is by creating patient technology advisory boards.
Ryzell McKinney, Director of Access Technology for Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said it’s all about patient preference.
“We ask the members of our patient technology advisory board what type of technology they would like to see implemented into their care, and it’s opened up all kinds of considerations for new implementations.”
He noted that telehealth is an area that the medical center is working toward. “For patients that don’t want to drive long distances to our facilities, we want to be able to meet them wherever they are,” McKinney said. “We’re also doing some research in artificial intelligence as a result. We’re not sure where we’ll land yet in terms of implementation, but there will likely be something there.”
In addition to evaluating future opportunities and applications for emerging technology, it’s just as important to consider new sets of challenges that these technologies will introduce.
According to Ed Martin, Technology Director with the University of California, San Francisco’s Center for Digital Health Innovation, data interoperability, data liquidity and privacy controls are a few major concerns that healthcare providers must focus on addressing.
“Unlike a consumer service like Amazon, which knows its users’ purchase history and general interests, the free flow of health data is not so easy to acquire,” Martin said. “Because people get their healthcare from so many different places, it’s created a data interoperability problem that this industry needs to solve.”
He added that it’s also critical to consider privacy issues.
“Whatever solutions we roll out, we need to make sure that we are able to maintain strict privacy controls. Unlocking the future of healthcare innovation will require a foundation of data interoperability and data liquidity, but in setting that data free, we need to strike a balance with proper data control.”
At the rate that technology is emerging, evolving and driving new expectations within our everyday lives, its opportunities for the healthcare industry are just as powerful. Providers must start planning ahead for them, today.
Healthcare has fallen behind other industries when it comes to delivering services in ways consumers expect: proactively, seamlessly and using unique personalized methods. The good news is that it is on its way to catching up.
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