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May 26, 2016

Welcome To The Virtual Hospital

Posted by Sanjay Dalwani (View Profile | View All Posts) at 8:52 AM

Virtual technology could improve brain surgery [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3mx7Rd-Yb4]

This month the Oculus Rift headset went on sale at 48 Best Buy stores across America. The price - approximately US$ 600 - suggest that virtual reality headsets have a market that is well beyond teenagers using the technology for video games. Healthcare delivery, too, is at the cusp of being transformed by this technology. I believe that amazing synergies await doctors and their patients when making important diagnoses remotely with the help of virtual reality.

Dr. Abraham Nussbaum, the Chief Education Officer at Denver Health, in his new book The Finest Traditions of My Calling, is critical of the modern-day practices of his colleagues. "The patient," writes Dr. Nussbaum, "becomes a case report, a billing code, a quality metric", and doctors spend "checkup(s) gazing into a computer screen". Is there any wonder, then, that doctors, who feel burned out by seeing patient after patient in their examination rooms, will welcome the new paradigm that virtual reality will create when it comes to healthcare?

Analysts from the technology research firm Gartner have said that manufacturers of such headsets could sell as many as 40 million of them by 2020. That estimate takes into account all sectors where virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets can make a splash, including healthcare, travel, and, of course, video games.

The maxim that for there to be a demand for VR or AR headsets there first must be compelling content is true. Beyond the gaming and entertainment industries, it's the world of healthcare that is standing at the ready with an endless supply of content in the form of patient data. A fascinating article in Time magazine on the first anniversary of the Apple Watch reveals how the real motivation of the company's development of a smart watch was the experience that Apple founder Steve Jobs had with doctors and the entire healthcare system during his battle with pancreatic cancer. Jobs was convinced there had to be a better way to connect reams of patient data with the doctor so that the ongoing interaction between healthcare providers and patients could improve.

Think about it: Most people wearing smart watches use them primarily for fitness and wellness purposes. The watches themselves tend to be too small to replace the now-entrenched smart phone and tablet. But throw in VR or AR headsets into the equation and everything changes. True, your doctor can still monitor your vital signs remotely from your smart watch. But a robust, meaningful, lifelike interaction with a healthcare provider becomes possible with a headset. And there's no reason it can't be used in tandem with a smart watch.

From purely a business standpoint, it stands to reason that the industry that has the ability to make large-scale investments in this evolving sector are healthcare entities. Buying hundreds of virtual or augmented reality headsets for a large hospital system lowers the total cost of ownership - especially if patients are covered by their insurance companies. Being able to make a virtual house call removes significant costs from what a healthcare system can offer consumers. Headsets can help empty out waiting rooms and doctors can be 'on call' without being on the premises.

I'm envisioning a future where the entire notion of what constitutes a hospital or clinic is going to change radically in the next few years. The doctor's office will be wherever your headset is. Imagine turning on your headset and hearing: "Your doctor will see you now."

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