New tech — from virtual reality to telemedicine — is becoming more prevalent at hospitals across the country, pushing the bounds of possibility when it comes to standards of care.
In the last few years, we’ve seen a wave of new technology designed to augment our daily experiences with healthcare. Telemedicine and advances in remote monitoring are giving patients more flexibility and centricity in their own care. Meanwhile, progress in artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) help doctors make better decisions and improve the patient experience during long-term care.
Here’s how hospitals are taking advantage of these new technologies today:
Telehealth technology is making its way into more hospitals than ever as practitioners realize its benefits for their patients and their practice. 75% of Foley Telemedicine and Digital Health Survey respondents reported that their organizations offer or plan to offer telemedicine services.
Relaxed state regulations and new tools from professional associations have enabled this transition. 48 states are in the process of creating or modifying laws to better define regulatory frameworks for remote care. In November, the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) announced the release of the Telemedicine Toolkit, which helps hospitals assess opportunities and analyze current practices before establishing a telemedicine program.
All this forward progress begs the question of whether telemedicine and remote care should be developed into a new specialty, or whether it should simply augment the current standard of care. Some hospitals are arguing for a new breed of medical professional, one with a multidisciplinary medical specialty focused on virtual care. Last quarter, Nomad Health opened an online job board for healthcare staffing that includes telehealth positions alongside traditional roles. As we continue into 2018 and healthcare’s interest in telemedicine grows, these roles will expand to allow interested, talented professionals to participate.
AI, VR, and AI
Though we’ve only scratched the surface of the capabilities of this technology, VR, AR, and AI are becoming increasingly integrated in efforts to treat and engage patients.
Hospitals have been particularly successful in their applications of VR and AR for pediatric patients. At Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, doctors use AR tablets to entertain, educate, and distract young hospitalized children. Within the app, kids can choose avatars that will offer them entertainment, information, and support, as well as challenges that they can complete to unlock new content. The Los Angeles Children’s Hospital found that VR headsets can also reduce anxiety and procedural pain among children during routine blood draws. These discoveries demonstrate promise for pediatric applications of this technology in the future.
But these technologies have implications for healthcare in other age groups as well. Studies with veterans suffering from PTSD indicate that these patients may be more likely to open up to virtual interviewers than human therapists, improving mental healthcare for service members returning home. On the AI side, Accenture has begun a pilot program where assistants with machine learning capabilities help seniors manage their care and recommend activities to support overall health. Another pilot program is testing AI applications in nursing homes and memory care facilities, tracking resident behavior and alerting staff to declines and emergencies.
These examples are only small snippets of the potential benefits that new technology can bring. VR, AR, AI, and telemedicine applications in hospital and long-term care settings will only expand as technology improves and governments adapt their regulations. We look forward to seeing improved patient experiences, reduced costs, and deeper insights in 2018.