A non-political approach: how Web & AR technologies can assist health care now

This post is completely non-political. It’s not a top-down solution but rather an understanding that can be implemented no matter what the political orientation is. All it takes is a commitment to save lives by providing the medical professionals with real help in the form of accurate, real-time information. Since this is dealing with the medical field, I will start by looking at some symptoms, diagnosing the issue and finally prescribing a technology solution.

Symptoms: 3 short real stories about how data gaps jeopardize lives;
Story #1: For the last four months, one of my friends was constantly moved between different hospital wings, even different hospitals and rehab centers. To my surprise, the data rarely traveled with him and it was up to family to update the new departments, and sometimes even the new shifts. There was little history of issues, of medication, of tolerance levels and little to no communication between different institutions. The doctors and nurses tried mostly to deal with the inflammation of the day. Thus, a man who walked into the ER with severe shoulder pain (due to no cartilage) ended up on dialysis, liquid foods, and countless long-standing inflammations, emotional trauma and immune system failures. His shoulder is still not being treated, although it is the #1 source of pain and the very reason he is unable to do any meaningful physical therapy and truly assist in his recovery.

Story #2: While visiting a friend who experienced a severe car crash, I noticed 2 registered nurses manually copying data from various monitoring systems into their logs. I watched over one’s shoulder for a long time as he recorded a snapshot, unaware of a severe drop in blood pressure just 10 minutes earlier. I was amazed that only very little data was copied across and the many drop-down form constrictions in the UI. The slowness of the manual process was also painful. It was being done at the most stable moment, as the more critical states rightly call for medical attention not data entry. I realized that a highly skilled nurse was reduced to a data entry person for a long period of time, rather than provide care or even bond with the patient. This was ICU.

Story #3: Earlier this year, my wife and I welcomed our 3rd baby, and she was breech. We knew that, so we did the whole registering with the hospital and so on. An operating room was to be ready and we kept informing the staff about the situations and about my wife’s history of very fast deliveries. It was pointless. When we got to the hospital, we had to do all the registrations once again, the computers locked up and they rolled in new ones, multiple people stopped in asking the very same questions again and again and writing them down on paper pads. At one point, there was a line of nurses and admin staff waiting by the bed in the triage room for my wife to sign forms in the few seconds between contractions. We never made it to the operating room, the doctor having to urge the staff to rush my wife to the delivery room instead. No time for drugs or any other preparations neither. Fortunately our doctor has been around for many years and his capable hands were able to rescue a situation that endangered the lives of both the mother and the baby. As soon as the delivery was over, a nurse brought to my wife a last form to sign for which there was no time in the triage room. She signed it with a shaking hand, relieved that everything went well in a fortunate defiance of logic.

As tempting as it might be to point at people, this is not a problem caused by the medical personnel. On the contrary, it is amazing how often doctors and nurses are able to rescue situations in which they were made to walk in blindly. There is a very obvious lack of critical, real, live information due to a very narrow focus on the problem at hand. The long-term health issues are rarely analyzed and problems almost always occur when a patient advocate (family or friend) is not around to do that manual data upload whenever a complication occurs. The “medical history” records have failed almost every single one of my friends who spent time in hospitals. It is virtually impossible for the medical staff to have an accurate picture of the patient’s recent history and long-term medical history. There are too many patients, there is not enough time to spend on understanding the issues and frankly, most of the time, the information just isn’t there. This turns medical care into a point-and-shoot game instead of empowering doctors and nurses with the holistic understanding needed for successful strategy approaches. In an attempt to be efficient and specialized, we leave large information gaps, virtually forcing medical professionals to fail and patients to get sicker or even die. Who is to blame becomes absolutely irrelevant at that point. What is relevant is that we need to do something to help.

Imagine a nurse entering my friend’s room in Story #1. She wears Augmented Reality glasses and upon entering the room she is made aware of the various health metrics, medications and treatments tables. The intubated patient still has tactile capabilities. His fingers operate his own piece of AR hardware, allowing him to provide real feedback to the nurse. The nurse decides which information to share visually, and which information to share by talking to the patient. Should an issue arise, she can instantly establish a visual connection with the doctor or even a professional in a different institution, while powerful searches are made in the background to provide relevant information about my friends issue. The nurse’s and doctor’s expertise are then put to good use to run expert searches that provide accurate results. When treatments are agreed on, it’s being validated to ensure there is no allergy history and a big-data Googlesque crunch reveals the possible complication and the more successful implementations. The information is continually synched with large data stores that make communication and solutions instantly available, invaluable especially in the case of new outbreaks. At the end of the treatment, the nurse, or even better, the patient himself, can tap into the authorized social network group and provide updates to family and friends filtered by levels of access.
During this time, the nurse and patient also have personal interactions face to face, enabling them to establish a connection at human level while the software and hardware allows them to actually collaborate on a professional level.

In story #2 there is no time wasted with manually entering data. The data is available instantly and the nurse is able to do 100% patient care, which is what ICU patients need.  Systems synch automatically (that’s what computers do well) and other automated tasks may be triggered using near field communication.  Prediction software may even anticipate the rounds and run the bigger queries in the background, before the nurse enters a room.

In story #3, alarms would flash in AR view, alerting all personnel of the possible complications while also allowing the agreements to be recorded visually. The patient can agree and everything can move to the next steps. The doctor can connect and manage the situation even before making it to the room. Both legal and medical sides of the business are not just covered, but actually done well.  All the personnel is aware of the important metrics and can drill into details.  Even if validation with the patient is needed, the knowledgeable, aware nature of the discussion will add a measure of confidence to the mother-to-be, rather than uncertainty and stress which are so detrimental during labor.
These are just a few stories, but if you spend some time around hospitals and care facilities, you will see how much technology can help this field.

I am not interested in a next Web x.0. Instead, the web has to grow up and become The Web, the living, breathing network that makes us smarter and more accurate without sacrificing actual human interaction. It must become the network that empowers us as individuals and as communities. Imagine the limitless possibilities in software, hardware, UI and UX! And what a more rewarding starting point is there than to save lives and do it profitably in the field that is expected to grow exponentially over the next decade: health care. Now get to work.


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