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article imageComputer-generated doctor successful in trial

By Tim Sandle     May 14, 2017 in Technology
Will the virtual world extend to computer generated medics offering advice to patients? The technology and supporting medical science has taken a step closer. In a trial a computer-generated physician has explained test results to patients.
The technology is video-based and not at Star Trek like proportions. In Star Trek Voyager, "The Doctor" was the ship’s Emergency Medical Holographic program (or "EMH") and Chief Medical Officer during the ship's seven-year journey through the Delta Quadrant. The new technology is a little more two-dimensional, although effective. The process works by having a dual screen. On one side of the screen, medical test scores are displayed and embedded in a graphic; on the other side, there is a virtual physician telling the user what the results mean.
A screenshot of Star Trek: Voyager s character The Doctor from the episode  Imperfection .
A screenshot of Star Trek: Voyager's character The Doctor from the episode "Imperfection".
As an example, rather than being given a cholesterol score a patient would be taken through what the results mean and what steps are required to help to bring the cholesterol levels down.
Discussing this, lead researcher Dr. William Schuh said: “The dialogue delivered by the computer agent is similar to that which would occur during a routine office visit with a physician.” He adds in a research briefing: “The videos are intended to supplement, not replace, physician-patient interaction, promoting patients' understanding of their health conditions and their performance of self-care behaviors.”
To test out the feasibility of the technology, a group of older adults (aged between 65 to 89 years) acted as patients. The subjects viewed or listened to messages in which a virtual reality computer agent outlined various test results together with the disease risks. Following the exercise, the subjects were asked about their understanding of the information presented and how they found the overall experience. The results were generally positive.
The trial has been operated by technologists at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where a virtual reality medic has explained diabetes and cholesterol test results to patients. This takes the form of videos that can be viewed on electronic medical record portals.
The long-term goal of the project is to make access to electronic medical record portal messages more meaningful and to find a better way to engage for patients. The researchers hope that seeing an image of a medical professional talking will help patients with lower levels of health literacy, especially those who have difficulty in accessing on-line medical information and with the interpretation of the information.
The new technology is discussed in the Journal of Biomedical Informatics, in a research paper titled “A multidisciplinary approach to designing and evaluating Electronic Medical Record portal messages that support patient self-care.”
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