You might remember the story from earlier this year about baby Teegan Lexcen. Born with just one lung and half a heart, and a defect so rare that doctors hadn’t come across it before, Teegan was sent home with hospice and not expected to live beyond a month or so. After a few months Teegan was still fighting and her parents sought a second opinion. Through some online research they found Dr. Redmond Burke, the chief of cardiovascular surgery at Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami, who agreed to help. Burke turned to Dr. Juan Carlos Muniz, a pediatric cardiologist who specializes in imaging, to make a 3-D model of Teegan's heart.
When their 3-D printer wasn’t working, Muniz bought a Google Cardboard device which allowed Burke to visualize Teegan's heart; critically important was the ability to visualize her heart in context with her ribcage and other structures, something 3-D printing can’t do. The surgery was a success and Teegan’s life was saved – thanks to her innovative surgeon and health care team, and a $20 cardboard device.
More recently, Boston Children’s Hospital launched an effort to test Amazon’s Virtual Assistant Alexa. The idea, according to an article in STAT, is to “bring Alexa into patient rooms, help doctors take notes, and read back charts, among other things.” For now, Alexa is part of three mocked-up rooms in the hospital’s simulation center — an operating room, an intensive care unit, and a child’s bedroom – where physicians, nurses, patients and engineers can run through a variety of scenarios and imagine how Alexa can help improve care and patient engagement, such as helping patients remember discharge instructions.
The global market for VR in health care is projected to reach $3.8 billion by 2020, with the U.S. representing the largest market worldwide. According to a recent Nuance study, nearly 75% of doctors believe that virtual assistants could improve health care and patient engagement by supporting improved care coordination. That same study found improved patient communications and communication between providers among the top five ways voice-enabled assistants can better health care delivery.
While we didn’t save any lives, we did have fun playing with Google Cardboard at our booth at DIA 2016 last week in Philadelphia, and speaking with conference attendees about the ways in which VR will impact clinical R&D and improve patient engagement. Given the impact mobile apps and other digital health technologies continue to have on clinical research it’s not hard to believe that VR will have a big role to play too.