The Longevity

How Virtual Reality is Already Reducing Costs in Healthcare

It is well known that the healthcare sector has historically been one of the slowest to adopt technology and therefore to also avoid the digital disruptions so acutely felt already in retail, communications, travel and other areas driven by consumer demand. The recent advances of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) may prove to be crucial factors in finally reaching the tipping point of tech disruption in healthcare.

[N]ew healthcare-related startups are completely deconstructing the mystique of the doctor-patient encounter [and] they’re accomplishing this disruption while cutting costs. Here are a few of these standout innovations that raise new possibilities for…healthcare compan[ies]:

Telemedicine offers perhaps the greatest potential revolution in the standard of care that would affect the vast majority of people, in a way that will have real impact not only on how quickly they receive a medical assessment but also on the cost of that appointment.

The American Medical Association has gone on record as stating that fully 70 percent of office visits can be effectively covered by a telemedicine platform.

Akos recently announced the launch of its first U.S. healthcare practice, a virtual platform app charging a $49 flat fee for 15 live video minutes with a board-certified Akos physician. These virtual doctors offer 24/7 availability, as well as the professional authority to diagnose, treat and prescribe if necessary. Patients whose needs can’t be handled remotely will be referred by Akos to a local provider within the Akos network. Akos has no membership or insurance requirements, and it discounts it’s per-visit costs for those patients who pay a small monthly subscription charge.

This fee-for-service plan is very affordable compared to what many people are used to paying…and it keeps patients’ medical records securely stored on a HIPAA-compliant platform. Akos co-founder Dr. Swaraj Singh states, “The opportunity to fix healthcare, making it accessible and affordable, is enormous. By introducing communities to Akos, we will eliminate the anxiety and uncertainty around healthcare, and instead help patients feel empowered about their healthcare decisions.”

VR can also influence designers–of assisted living facilities, for example–by literally giving them a chance to experience what it’s like to have the “diminished perception of patients with dementia” or any  number of other conditions.

[A]rchitectural design and building renovation represent a sizable chunk of capital expenditure. Scottish architect David Burgher, collaborating with VR provider Wireframe Immersive, has developed the Virtual Reality Empathy Platform. This modeling platform informs Burgher’s designs for assisted living and long-term care facilities.  By seeing potential care spaces through the virtual eyes of patients, Burgher states that he can “better consider the lighting, layout, and way-finding for a safer and more independent living environment.” Once the simulation has been completed, building can get underway and Burgher notes that “designers will get it right the first time and therefore reduce costs” for the future building’s owners.

Continuing on with the theme of those older adults who are senior care facilities, VR is showing tremendous promise for reducing social isolation of residents and even increasing reported levels of resident happiness, particularly among those with limited physical mobility.

Rendever’s VR platform opens up the world to older people with disabilities who live in such communities. Rendever’s motto is “expanding worlds,” and its stunning premise is that virtual reality is the perfect solution for patients whose health conditions prevent them from moving around much in the real physical world. Rendever breaks isolation by letting users explore the globe, and the facilities where it’s used report a 40 percent increase in resident happiness.

CBS News recently profiled a senior living community where Rendever is stimulating a new level of engagement among residents. Lally Evers and Reed Hayes, both grad students at MIT, plan to sell their platform to residential communities for an upfront fee plus a monthly subscription. 

As Renever’s success reveals, seniors can be quite receptive to VR, reinforcing more general data on adoption of digital health tools by the 65+ population.

A 2016 survey of over 7,000 elderly patients found more of them than expected use digital devices for health monitoring purposes. Furthermore, a majority of survey respondents indicated an interest in using wearables for monitoring health. Lead survey author Ian Manovel commented that “digital health has no age limit.”

The surge of success in fitness or activity trackers made them one of the early success stores in digital health tech. And now, many employers are tapping into this consumer enthusiasm to encourage employees to monitor their health and stay active.

[Companies] financially thrive when…employees stay healthy. The emergence of wearables provides employers with a win-win situation, as they incentivize their workers to take advantage of devices such as Fitbit, Jawbone, Apple Watch and other monitors. Rewards from employers range from gift vouchers and gym passes to lower health insurance premiums. Workers with specific health conditions such as diabetes can earn extra incentives by wearing monitors that help them manage blood sugar levels. [E]mployees benefit by experiencing greater levels of health and well-being, while [employers] save money by reducing sick days and increasing productivity.

Emergency room visits are one of the most costly and often avoidable expenses in our healthcare system. It’s no surprise, then, that “remote patient monitoring (RPM) accounts for the majority of tech spending [in the smart devices market]”.

This trend is partly due to the fact that today’s reimbursement laws reward providers for good outcomes, and if a doctor can monitor patients’ conditions automatically, then problems can be addressed before they turn into emergencies.

When…patients receive information on the best ways to manage their own specific conditions, they stay more engaged and proactive about their own health, and more compliant with treatment regimens. A new area called “remote health management” is developing, as exemplified by solutions such as Health Harmony from Care Innovations.

Do you have a healthcare company? If so, this list is concluded with some advice.

[T]he fact that virtual reality frees the medical practice from geographic constraints is already giving rise to powerful use cases in the delivery of health care. The potential of VR to make healthcare delivery more cost-effective is already being demonstrated, and your company would be wise to adopt it in the short term with long-term investment in mind.

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