Innovating in healthcare is tough. Really tough. For all the obvious (and correct) reasons there are many layers of technical due diligence to be performed on new medical approaches and products. Centralised budgetary and decision-making policies coupled with increasing patient demand and expectation often puts healthcare institutions in a Catch-22 when it comes to healthcare technology innovation. Conserve precious budget and stick with the status quo that is increasingly falling short, or invest in new products and training that will temporarily reduce available funding in other areas? In order to achieve adoption new healthcare technologies often need to achieve the twin, and somewhat mutually-exclusive, goals of improved healthcare outcomes and reduced costs compared with existing methods.
As specialist medical knowledge and expertise becomes increasingly centralised a third requirement often appears in this already-challenging mix. That requirement is operation at scale. The new approach or innovation needs to deliver its improved healthcare outcomes across larger groups of patients who are often widely distributed geographically and won’t necessarily be travelling to the location where the specialist resides. Improved outcomes, lower costs and increased scale seems like an incredibly difficult set of requirements to satisfy simultaneously.
Fortunately some ongoing initiatives and trends in healthcare are facilitating an increased spirit of innovation. The burgeoning mobile health (m-health) movement is making strides in the safe incorporation of lower-cost consumer electronics such as smartphones and tablet computers into medical practice. This goes beyond the simple personal mobile apps for fitness and wellness that are now commonly downloaded from iTunes or Google Play. M-health is used to perform healthcare-related activities including:
1. Collection, transferral and analysis of community and clinical data
2. Deliverance of educational and preventative information to practitioners and patients
3. Real-time monitoring of patient condition using sensor networks
4. Direct delivery of treatment and care at scale and at distance by mobile telemedicine
Wearable technology such as smart watches, wristbands and glasses are already being used for personal fitness and wellness applications and are starting to become incorporated into the m-health strategy, particularly for healthcare applications where the user needs to be unencumbered such as nursing, surgery and the taking of diagnostic measurements by professionals or patients.
Another relevant healthcare trend that requires an increased level of technological innovation to sustain it is personalised medicine. This term initially meant personalisation of healthcare approaches and treatment based on particular genetic aspects of the individual patient. However in recent times it has broadened to encompass a variety of criteria that select the best treatment options based on individual circumstances and context, rather than a general diagnosis of a condition or type of condition. The European Alliance for Personalised Medicine describes personalised medicine as follows:
“Involving the patient more closely as an individual, with a focus on each person’s unique biological make-up and their environmental and lifestyle factors, is central to the concept of personalised medicine. It thus finds its place logically within the move towards personalised healthcare – that broader vision of people taking greater responsibility for their own wellbeing based on the more precise awareness of individual health status and susceptibilities that modern profiling can provide.”
A key point to note here is that personalised medicine implies people taking increased responsibility and undertaking a higher degree of self-management of their healthcare. This trend is vital to attain the scalability of healthcare throughout the 21st century and needs to be promoted and supported by new healthcare technologies.
So where will augmented reality and virtual reality fit into this new healthcare paradigm? The incorporation of mobile and wearable consumer electronics devices into healthcare is certainly a useful trend in this regard. Sentireal® envisages augmented and virtual reality playing an important role in at least three major areas:
1. Patient education and on-the-spot guidance with healthcare self-management
2. Education and guidance to carers and remote monitoring of their dependents
3. Training and on-the-spot guidance for medical professionals
As the personalised medicine movement gathers pace then the digital content conveyed over augmented or virtual reality will require automated composition and curation based on the context of individual patients. This has a strong fit with Sentireal’s approach to personalising and contextualising augmented and virtual reality technologies.
Education is not a sector that immediately conjures an image of wholescale change or rapid innovation. However a number of scenarios and initiatives are converging in a “perfect storm” scenario that’s likely to shake up how we all learn within schools, colleges, businesses and as individual self-supporting students.
The first of these elements of change is regulatory and curricular change in many countries, such as the Common Core and Next Generation Science standards in the United States. These are programmes that have generated great change and produced a complete spectrum of opinions from educators and the general community.
The second element of change is advances in learning theory and resultant alterations to how the teaching/learning process and the teacher/student relationship works. For many years this relationship has worked largely along the lines of the teacher or trainer being the transmitter of information and the student being the receptor and assimilator of that information. With initiatives such as the flipped classroom, blended learning and non-linear learning that relationship is changing. Increasingly, students are self-managing the discovery and presentation of the information they need from digital content. Teachers or trainers are acting as coaches and facilitators to provide the student with high-level direction and additional clarification and insight on the information presented by the digital material.
The third element of change is the widening geographical distribution of students in many education and training scenarios. The rising use of Massive Open Online Courses(MOOCs) is strong evidence of how digital media and broadband communications are being used to distribute teaching and learning across larger groups of students and across larger regions of the world.
It has also been said, perhaps with some justification, that new technology introduced into traditional education and training processes has not yet delivered in its promise of improving learning outcomes. The penetration of tablet computers and mobile apps into the classroom and training room has increased significantly in recent years but evidence that this has led to large and sustained improvements in learning is quite sparse. MOOCs have high rates of registration from students but also high rates of drop-out as many students lose interest in courses they initially sign up for. Why hasn’t the access to all this superb educational digital content led to the level of learning improvements that we all hoped? Two important aspects are lack of personalisation and lack of experimentation and interaction, particularly as the number and distribution of students scale up. Generic digital media is prepared on particular subject but it doesn’t address the individual and evolving interests and needs of each student – the content is authored once “for the masses” and ends up being an unacceptable compromise for all. MOOCs may provide hour after hour of useful digital content, but the passive consumption of that content quickly erodes the student’s attention and interest. The occasional mildly-interactive assessment exercise does little to correct this.
These problems can be addressed in interesting and fruitful ways by making better use of augmented reality, virtual reality and data analytics techniques. Augmented and virtual reality provide the means to capture the student’s needs, interests and environment via sensors and also provide the means to present engaging digital content. The rich variety of user interfaces opened up with augmented and virtual reality also allows increased interactivity and experimentation, when paired with the appropriate content. With augmented reality we can even turn every physical-world scene into a potential learning opportunity! Data analytics provides the means for curating the most personally-relevant content to deliver at any given time. Teachers are also facilitated by the ability to “join” virtual or augmented environments with their students and analyse the results of automated student assessments gathered in the background by the system, rather than through specific contrived assessment exercises.
These are the capabilities that digital technology needs to start providing in order to make its full contribution to the education and training sea-change that is upon us.