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V(EH)R: Possibilities in Virtual Healthcare

by Jessica Myers, Public Relations Intern, athenahealth

Healthcare is on the exciting precipice of technological innovation. As virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) grow more commonplace in medical school classes, in the exam room, and in the marketplace, observers have begun to anticipate ways in which these technologies may help to fix some of healthcare’s biggest obstacles. Such observers include athenahealth’s CEO Jonathan Bush, who recently spoke on this topic at Fortune Brainstorm Health alongside thought leaders Dr. Anthony Atala and Deborah DiSanzo. Coming into healthcare with varying backgrounds and roles, these three panelists illustrated the opportunity provided by VR, AI, and 3D interfaces: that they may help the industry reach Health 3.0 and its goal of precise and patient-centered care that is deeply reliant on technology and patient-provider relationships.

Doctors

When we think about the role that VR and AI could play in healthcare, we often think immediately of its value to providers. Virtual reality can provide learning opportunities for medical students, too, offering a chance to perform new treatments and practice procedures. This would help contain physician error and operating inefficiencies.  Like VR, 3D printing can help prepare physicians for operations.

3D printing is also widely regarded for its ability not only to mimic, but also to work with, the human body. The ability to print with multiple materials allows for streamlined integration between 3D-printed models and the human body. 3D-printed models that are able to replicate human pathophysiology may lead to significantly less animal testing in medicine, as well.

Patients

The experiential promise of VR and AI also show promise for patients, who are excited for the chance to delve virtually into their upcoming procedures and see how they are faring during their yearly physicals. VR allows for a more personal and transparent look at patients’ unique medical profiles and identities.  It can also alleviate the anxiety that often stems from patients’ uncertainty.

Vendors

One area of the healthcare conversation that may benefit from more inquiry and input is the vendor arena. Virtual reality and artificial intelligence are making strides here, but have yet to truly find their place in the space that exists between patients and providers:  digital interfaces, portals, and EHRs. The VR and AI opportunity may be endless if we put VR and AI to the test in the systems that all three use. athenahealth already accrues and analyzes data in our network—but what about the experiential data that could be gleaned from virtual technologies?

One notable move toward this reality is Sharecare’s acquisition of BioLucid. The health and wellness engagement platform created “YOU VR,” offering a visual simulation of the human body based on health information and including relevant treatments. Imagine applying this to EHRs, creating immersive landscapes where patients and providers can meticulously touch on and tune up personalized aspects of healthcare. In shifting from 2D to 3D, from text to tangible, we may enter a new era of healthcare—Health 3.0—that accentuates our personalized humanity with the click of a button.

With virtual imagination comes real-life inspiration. As we look to the future of healthcare and its technologies, we are eager to see which facets of healthcare adopt these virtual technologies and how they will ultimately help, enhance, and unbreak our system.

What are your thoughts on VR/AI/3D in healthcare? How might they be further used? What areas might benefit from these technologies?

Jessica Myers graduated from Penn State University with a Bachelor's Degree in English (Honors).  She is currently interning at athenahealth while working on her Master's degree in English at Northeastern University.

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