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In every aspect of healthcare, patients engage with their doctors and providers across multiple touchpoints, and each presents unique challenges and opportunities. New healthcare technologies offer a variety of ways for health providers to serve their patients and improve outcomes across the board. 

Several innovations crossing over from other industries and integrating into healthcare settings serve to empower patients to be more in control of their own health journeys, while simultaneously reducing fear of the unknown. 

Immersive technologies

One area resulting in reduced patient anxiety is patient education. Patients scheduled for surgical procedures benefit from immersive technologies, which have promise in preoperative preparation by helping patients better understand what to expect during their health treatment plan. This knowledge ultimately reduces anxiety, while increasing patient engagement by making them active participants.

For example, simulated VR helps patients learn by seeing for themselves through an immersive viewing experience. Software engineers create 3D models of internal bodily structures that patients explore using VR headsets. Now, instead of relying on telling a patient about their upcoming procedure, healthcare providers can offer a spatial perspective of the process.

Empowering patients through different perspectives and methods is an important step toward relieving their anxiety. Patients use their knowledge to communicate with providers in a more informed way, coming to  better understand their own conditions and what they themselves can do to improve their health outcomes.

Patient using VR

Seeing is believing

VR gives patients the ability to take a detailed tour of their own gastrointestinal tracts. In the past, such information was conveyed through reports and ultrasound photographs that were more often than not a source of confusion for patients. Being able to see their own bodies in meticulous simulated detail can be a true game-changer for patient engagement and patient adherence. Once they see for themselves the true importance of what their provider has said, will they not be more likely to listen to their advice? 

Remote patient monitoring

The use of digital technology to remotely capture and transmit health data from patients during their treatment protocols is one of the most promising recent advances in healthcare. Remote patient monitoring (RPM) takes advantage of mobile technology to passively keep tabs on a patient's vital signs while they go about  daily activities. A health professional reviews the transmitted data from a distance and makes on-the-spot decisions about modifying the patient's care regimen as needed. ‌

This technology was already becoming more common prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As one might imagine, the pandemic greatly accelerated and amplified the adoption of RPM technologies. Apart from reducing the amount of work a patient needs to do to track their health after being discharged, knowing that their doctor is monitoring their treatment protocol can greatly reduce their sense of anxiety. 

A person holding a phone

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How does remote patient monitoring work in practice?

Medical professionals who decide RPM is appropriate for their patient create a monitoring system based on certain milestones. Physiological characteristics like blood pressure, blood sugar and heart rate, among others, may be used to gauge the effectiveness of treatment, although the precise data points will depend on the patient's condition. 

Patients are then given a remote-capable device to carry with them after being discharged. The devices often use a cellular or Bluetooth connection to transmit health data back to the patient's provider. Some medical devices may require a brief lesson in how to use the technology, but many of the latest devices are relatively straightforward. RPM technology also cuts down on the need for patients to physically visit their providers for routine checkups, reducing the healthcare burden for patient and provider alike. 

Simulated environments offer stress relief and memory care 

There is already much to be excited about regarding the use of virtual reality in healthcare, and more advancements are on the horizon. It is well known, for instance, that spatial memory plays a powerful role in how we recall information. Think of those who only remember their ATM code once they're standing in front of a machine. What if you could apply the same principle to dementia patients using virtual reality headsets? 

It is not far-fetched. Soon we may program simulated environments that correspond to a dementia patient's direct life experience. Memories that would otherwise lie dormant can be potentially reactivated simply by immersing the patient in a familiar VR setting. Headsets to accomplish this task are becoming less expensive, bringing the technology within reach of health clinics and long-term care facilities around the country. 

VR technology may also benefit the young

Software engineers are now developing VR headsets that fit children and can be used in a medical setting to provide calm for doctor and patient alike.

Software engineers are now developing VR headsets that fit children and can be used in a medical setting to provide calm for doctor and patient alike. Healthcare providers know how difficult it can be to control a child's anxiety during a medical procedure. Although such anxiety is understandable, it can unnecessarily complicate even routine treatments (not to mention changing their dressings after an injury). 

This can be remedied through child-friendly interactive video games that kids can play and control with their eyes or head during a procedure. While the physician is working, children are immersed in a 360-degree game or educational setting. The headsets are typically paired with smartphones that allow the child to pick and choose their virtual experience. Such immersion can ease their anxiety, make the provider's job easier and help children no longer fear their trip to the clinic. 

Moving forward

New healthcare technology is humanizing, not dehumanizing, healthcare by placing the patient experience front and center. It is possible to personalize each individual patient's journey in a unique way, strengthening confidence between patient and provider while improving overall health outcomes. While more information and testing is needed, the initial adoption of VR and RPM tech has had excellent results, making life easier and less stressful for everyone invested in a patient's health outcomes.