Earlier this year, specialist agency The Pulse took the unusual step of hiring a chief medical officer. Here, Dr Mark Hohenberg (pictured below) explains why the move made sense for both him and the agency…
The bedpan-strewn world of geriatric medicine and the fast-paced world of an agency specialising in cutting-edge technology may seem a million miles apart, but one is about to have a massive impact on the other.
Picture the scene. A patient is rehabilitating in hospital after hip surgery. There are days, maybe weeks of downtime that only so many magazines, books or daytime TV can fill. It can be a dispiriting time.
What if we could offer that patient something else? Something completely immersive that would not only provide great experiences but also aid their recovery? That’s where the intersection really happens, and that’s why The Pulse decided they needed a CMO of a different kind – a chief medical officer.
Virtual and augmented reality technology has, of course, been around to some extent since the 1980s, but to date a lot of the experiences have been pretty clunky and disappointing. The hype has not lived up to the reality.
With players like Facebook and Sony pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the sector, the technology has suddenly jumped forward dramatically. Anyone who had the chance to try out either version of Oculus on display at Advertising Week last week will have to admit they are suddenly capable of transporting people in ways no other technology can.
But while people wrestle with VR in particular as a marketing tool, there are a lot of fields making big leaps with it, and at the forefront of these is Australia’s healthcare sector.
While joining an agency could be considered an unusual move for a medical professional, the opportunities for advancement for both treatment and for the technology’s development mean it makes absolute sense.
The culture of medicine, including medical education and medical practice, is changing rapidly. There is a huge worldwide push to digitisation, not just in terms of VR and AR, but electronic medical records and electronic prescribing, and the use of AI to read X-rays and CT scans. With the right guidance, these can be incredibly powerful tools for diagnosis, training and recovery.
Back to the patient recovering from hip surgery.
Many people in hospital find it a pretty horrendous experience and there is a global push to make things better. So, we have developed a product to provide recovering patients with diversion, stimulation and even education to aid their recovery during (and beyond) their stay in hospital.
We ultimately want to create an ecosystem of curated VR experiences for hospital patients that spans social, emotional, educational and therapeutic applications. It would be a powerful medical and marketing tool.
There are also a lot of clinical uses for AR and VR technology. Fundamentally, technology stands a chance of changing the way we do rehab and stroke medicine by improving patient motivation.
We can show patients reimagined, interactive 3D scans of their body and organs that are damaged due to diseases like heart attacks, strokes, dementia or traumatic amputations. Once that deeper understanding and clarity of what has happened to them has been provided, the greater your motivation will be to do rehabilitation.
A third and very important strand to VR and AR in healthcare is medical education. We all learn more from immersive experiences and that is no different with medical students. Technology in this area can solve real problems. In Australia, and elsewhere, there is shortage of cadavers which, traditionally, have been used by students for anatomy learning. VR gives us an opportunity to create that same immersive experience, in a way that can be repeated and ‘practiced’ indefinitely.
Equally, things like an intubation VR experience we’ve developed gives students the chance to practice crucial skills, so they are not performing the procedure on a real-life patient until they are absolutely ready. The IQ Platform allows up to 50 people to have the same VR experience simultaneously, making it ideal for group teaching. It also allows the teacher to control the content and even notate straight into the immersive environment – somewhat like combining a text book and a whiteboard in the virtual environment. Finally, our platform allows students to participate in collaborative tasks where they can see and interact with each other to build procedural proficiency.
The US may be leading the way in terms of innovation, but here in Australia we have a federal $150 million Digital Futures Fund which is designed to digitise and innovate Sydney’s healthcare system. Far from being pie in the sky and a potentially trailblazing idea that burns out, there is a will to integrate technology into healthcare experiences.
What we have to demonstrate is that we are not using technology for technology’s sake. Is it solving a problem? Is it adding to the experience or learning of a medical professional, student or patient? As a medical professional, I believe it is.
That is why The Pulse has taken me on. I am not a marketer, but a subject matter expert who is passionate about this technology and the potential it possesses.