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Meetings & Medical Communications

The Impacts of Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence on Pharma with Dr. Emmanuel Fombu

Posted by on 20 February 2018
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We spoke with Dr. Emmanuel Fombu, MD, MBA, Medical Director/Digital Lead CardioMetabolic Franchise, Novartis, a speaker at this year's ePharma conference, March 21-23, 2018 in New York City, on all things virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

Dr Fombu is an author, physician, entrepreneur, mHealth advocate, healthcare executive and medical futurist passionate about revolutionizing healthcare. Here he shares some insightful data on these innovative technologies and their impact on big pharma,  marketing and digital health.

How will virtual reality impact the patient experience? Patient/HCP interaction?

Virtual reality can impact all areas of healthcare, from deployment in classrooms to train surgeons in a risk-free environment to its use as a communications tool. From the patient's experience, there are two main areas that it's set to revolutionize:

  1. Telehealth consultations will become the new norm, and patients will be able to book appointments with physicians and specialists through virtual reality. This will make healthcare much more efficient, cutting down on travel times and wait times and removing geographic barriers for patients in rural areas.
  2. Patients with conditions that require a long-term stay will be able to receive virtual reality visits to boost their morale and make their stay more comfortable, facilitating an atmosphere in which their body can focus on recovery. Visits through VR could occur out of hours, cutting down the risks of outsiders bringing in infections to the sterile hospital environment and allowing patients to receive virtual 'visits' from anywhere in the world.

How can/has virtual reality impacted treatment solutions and HCP training?

VR effectively provides a risk-free way for healthcare professionals to make mistakes and to learn from them before they're unleashed on the patient population. We can see a glimpse of the future thanks to the success of Surgeon Simulator, which was created in just 48 hours and which had sold two million copies of 2015. While it's not a training tool, it does show how virtual reality and other new technologies could be used to simulate real-life situations - and how these tools could also encourage more youngsters to join the medical profession.

Due to the visual and visceral nature of virtual reality, it tends to be better suited for the more physical areas of healthcare such as carrying out operations. It's the perfect sister tool to artificial intelligence and machine learning, which can be used to simulate other types of treatment options such as medication or therapy.

How has artificial intelligence impacted digital health and communication?

We still have a long way to go until we reach the tipping point at which AI becomes the new norm. Still, it's being used in all sorts of areas, from the use of virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa in the operating room to answer basic questions and to change the music to the growing use of machine learning to identify trends and to provide real-time advice to physicians as they treat their patients. But for AI and machine learning to really shine, we need more open access to data, including truly interoperable EHRs and more advanced wearable devices so that we can integrate real-world patient data with what we know from their medical history.

Has virtual/augmented reality been effective in healthcare? Why or why not?

It's been more effective than throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at research and development in the hope of developing new cures. It's still early days for VR and AR and so I don't think it's fair to answer this. It would be like speculating on the impact that Facebook has had before it ever left Harvard Let's just say that the early signs are positive and in the next 10-20 years, we're going to see a huge change in the way that we approach modern healthcare. AR and VR is just the start of it.

How can VR or artificial intelligence be used to treat patients?

How can it not?! VR headsets could be used throughout the entire lifecycle, from training physicians to being used as a painkiller during childbirth (In a recent study by AppliedVR, VR was as effective as narcotics at reducing pain). It could be used to improve outlooks for sufferers of mental illnesses and to offer hope to the elderly at the end of their life. AI's potential to shake up healthcare is even greater. Imagine if every single possible piece of healthcare data was tracked across the course of our lives - and if it could be aggregated anonymously and mined for new conclusions. We could find medical treatments that we don't even know about and which are lying dormant in the data. And we could also identify long-term health trends across the whole population, identifying the root causes and taking action to head them off at the pass. In the future of healthcare, we'll move away from the transactional fee-for-service model to a value-based holistic model with a new motto: prevent -> intercept -> cure.

Find Dr Fombu on Twitter at @Fombumd.

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