USC has unveiled a photo-sharing app that tracks heart metrics and a virtual clinic that make use of hologram-based doctors.
While perhaps no other digital health technology has gotten as much attention as wearables, there are countless possibilities to leverage the technology to better monitor our health, says Leslie Saxon, cardiologist and executive director of the University of Southern California's (USC) Center for Body Computing (CBC). Saxon showed off two such technologies at at CBC's ninth annual conference in Los Angeles.
The first technology, an app known as Biogram, embeds heart rate data into photos that are distributed to social media using a photo-sharing network. Saxon came up with the idea for the app while watching her daughter use Instagram and thought creating a photo-sharing app with heart information could be a great way to reach younger users--a 2014 survey found that 41% of Instagram users are aged 16-24 while another 35% is aged 25-34%. Instagram has more than 400 million users--more than Twitter. The app can accept heart rate data from a variety of sources, including the AliveCor heart monitor and other sensors.
Leveraging Apple's ResearchKit platform, the Biogram app could exponentially increase the number of participants in medical research studies. While a traditional study might have upwards of 1000 participants, the Biogram app could enable millions of patients to be studied. In addition, the app can also accommodate other biometric information such as weight and steps taken. The App Store description for the product envisions it being used by mountain climbers who, upon reaching the summit, can share a view from the peak as well as their heartbeat. Developed as a collaboration between the CBC and Palo Alto-based Medable (www.medable.com) and AliveCor (San Francisco), the app is available for free in the App Store.
The Biogram app was designed by researchers to gain a better understanding of how publicly shared biometrics can influence personal relationships and experiences within a social community. The idea is to use the app to gather biometric information such as height, weight, steps taken, and heart rate data directly from HealthKit, the centralized platform where iPhone users store health data.
The CBC was quick to reassure that their study takes every precaution possible to ensure privacy protection, asking participants in each step of the process to allow researchers to access their activity and health data through the Biogram app. Saxon believes that the potential for the app to capture data from millions of participants could provide potentially groundbreaking observations.
The other technology Saxon is excited about is the "virtual care clinic" that uses artificial intelligence and virtual doctors. The first such facility, known as the USC Virtual Care Clinic, recently open in in Playa Vista, near the Silicon Beach area in Los Angeles, where tech behemoths Google, YouTube, and Facebook also have outposts. "It's the first clinic you don't have to visit," Saxon quips.
The clinic makes use of hologram technology from VNTANA, the Los Angeles-based USC spinoff that claims it has created "the world's first scalable, affordable, and interactive hologram system." Patients and doctors can interact with each other remotely via hologram technology. Presumably patients who have a physician in a digital clinic will be able to schedule appointments with their physician, who can then appear as a hologram to discuss healthcare concerns in real time. At the Body Computing Conference, Saxon showcases the technologywith a mock patient having a cardiac scare while visiting Dubai, providing patients with the ability to see their physician at any time, regardless of their location.
Saxon describes the project as an advanced form of telemedicine, where patients can access virtual representations of physicians, including their own personal doctor. These virtual doctors are backed by clinical decision support -- meaning they are specifically programmed to weigh the "mortality advantage" of a certain course of action.
In addition to the two above technologies, Saxon sees great potential for virtual reality to improve how medicine is practiced. It can offer new ways of providing therapy, can be used to complement traditional anesthesiology, for treating PTSD, for training surgeons, she says.