Imagine waking up in the morning, checking your blood pressure and then calling up a hologram of your doctor and asking if the reading is normal. The digital version of your doctor would look like her and would respond to your question based on a combination of her own medical knowledge and your patient data. This futuristic reality will certainly revolutionize the medical field in the years to come. However, I would certainly have mixed feelings about never actually visiting a doctors office in the flesh ever again.
This digital doctor already exists, according to Dr. Leslie Saxon, the head of the Center for Body Computing at USC. She described a “virtual human me” on The Internet of Things Podcast and shared her predictions for the future of healthcare in a connected world.
“We’ve created a virtual human me. I’m an expert in cardiac rhythm disorders. My virtual human is fueled by voice recognition AI. And she can provide unbelievable in depth content to you in a very deeply personal way,” Dr. Saxon says. “It’s very easy to create very realistic virtual humans. So, this looks like me … who, after you see me in a clinic visit, or if you’ve never met me and you’re living in Bangladesh, you can ask me questions about hearth rhythm disorders.”
Saxon says her answers are based on 30 years of experience answering patients questions, data-driven guideline data, and that it’s deeply personalized to you, because it’s an AI engine that can learn about you. The virtual Dr. Saxon already has 3,600 questions it understands and the goal is to deploy versions of it in all kinds of places.
Saxon views this sort of effort as the future of medicine, a future where 80% of medical care will be virtual and perhaps 20% will rely on in-person visits. And a key aspect to this vision is getting the knowledge of doctors to scale to the places where the patients are.
“What we’re seeing now is, we’re seeing this sort of merger of personally collected healthcare data with traditional data,” she says. “So, as you know, Apple announced this ability to support [electronic health records] on their platform, traditional electronic medical data as well as personal data. So, we’re now moving toward that virtual care vision. Telehealth is one small step, but it doesn’t really scale. All telehealth means is, you can get a doctor on a screen, a real doctor.”
This mixing of wearables to provide on-demand patient data, AI-powered virtual doctors, and real doctor visits only when the need is great will require better cybersecurity, a new regulatory framework, better privacy frameworks (Saxon says HIPPA is not enough) and peer-reviewed clinical data on what data from new sensors actually means. Saxon also cautions that patients will have to take a much more active role in their healthcare. There is no more paternalistic doctor that’s going to tell you what to do.
Patients will have to seek out information, evaluate it and play an active role in developing healthy habits.
“We’re not keeping patients down on the farm anymore” she says. “They have to understand their drugs. They have to engage in their care, they have to partner with us to make it better. Because I don’t want to spend a lot of time interrogating a patient like I’m a cop, “Did you do this or that,” and them feeling judged. I want them to come to me as a partner and I’m going to add my little expertise in.”
To learn more, listen to the whole interview here or just hit play below.