Using interactive video to open the human interaction between physicians and patients

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As if the cold, sterile environment of the hospital isn’t sufficient, the blank look on the doctor’s face as he or she delivers what seems like a death sentence (when really it is a simple blood pressure reading), is an image we can never seem to detach from our healthcare experiences. The physician-patient interaction is a very delicate one in which sugar-coating and concern for the patient’s sensibilities must not obscure the patient’s autonomy and right to essential information about his or health. Because of this weight that physician-patient interactions tend to carry, it is essential that we make it as seamless as possible for both parties. This is where the implementation of interactive video comes in.

Recently, researchers at Drexel University, the University of Florida, and University of Wisconsin have invented a robotic butt named Patrick to assist medical students in learning how to conduct proctology examinations (investigation of the prostate). Patrick’s robotic butt protrudes from a computer screen that displays an interactive video of an avatar in a clinical setting. Additionally, the butt has four built-in sensors to detect whether the examiner is applying the correct amount of pressure and covering all areas.

This interactive video system is revolutionary for its ability to help physicians-in-the-making become comfortable with potentially awkward situations. For example, the avatar in the video is designed to be slightly anxious about the check-up, thus giving students the opportunity to practice communication skills and help the patient feel at ease during the process. Often, new physicians do not receive enough practice before they encounter these experiences in the real world. Thus, interactive videos can help physicians gain the experience before the experience, so to speak.

Interactive video is at the heart of another technology that has now made significant headway in the medical field – that is, laparoscopy or “keyhole surgery”. This is a minimally invasive form of surgery that involves making a very small hole or lesion in the skin through which a tiny camera is inserted inside. The camera can be moved around in the internal cavities and transmits images to a computer screen which the physician is then able to view in real time. Thus, the procedure can be performed internally by the surgeon without requiring the body to be opened up.

This form of interactive video has the obvious advantage of enhancing the fundamental service that the physician provides to the patient through reduced scarring, shorter hospital stay times and generally safer procedures involving reduced risk of death. A not-so-obvious use of these videos in physician-patient interactions involves recording laparoscopic procedures as they are being performed. There are several reasons as to why recording a surgery might enhance interactions between physician and patient. To begin with, these videos can be used at conventions or in classes in order to keep both new and veteran doctors up-to-date with the latest technological advances in medicine. After all, a video from the surface does not provide as much information as a video detailing a procedure inside the very tissue or organ where it is being performed. As such, these videos enable physicians to update their skills to provide the best options to their patients. Additionally, with the addition of graphics, physician testimonials, animations and data on positive patient outcomes, such videos can be used as learning tools for a patient about to undergo that very procedure.

So far we have been discussing potential ways in which interactive videos can facilitate better interaction between physicians and their patients. Now consider an extreme case in the following scenario: you are feeling light-headed. You turn on your smart phone and log into an app that allows you to access a virtual doctor. The whole interaction plays out just as it would in a regular doctor’s office. The doctor on the screen asks you questions, and you simply type in your answers. You even place your finger on your phone screen and your blood pressure is measured within a matter of seconds. Your diagnosis: hypertension. The virtual doctor then recommends some treatments such as eating less salt, exercising more etc.

Individuals like cardiologist Dr. Eric Topol are already beginning to imagine the possibilities of using interactive video – or other forms of interactive multimedia – in healthcare settings. He has developed several apps that enable him to track the progress of his patients from a distance. Patients are able to use the apps to measure and record their vital signs such as blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and skin temperature. Vital signs are an indicator of the general physical health of a person and can give clues about the onset of possible diseases as well as the progression of recovery. Thus, it is now a very real possibility to track this data from a patient in real time, regardless of whether they are too busy to make it in for a check-up or they are vacationing in Tahiti. Talk about extreme convenience! The ultimate goal of using interactive videos in the medical field, according to Dr. Topol, is to eventually be able to predict someone’s medical future.

While it makes a great Sci-Fi story, it is unlikely that interactive videos will ever replace physicians completely – at least not in the immediate future. For now, interactive videos serve as an additional tool to enhance the physician-patient interaction in which communication is vital. Ultimately, such videos enable physicians to offer the best service to their patients while keeping patients in the know about what treatments they will be undergoing. The result is the development of mutual trust between the physician and patient – a hallmark of a successful physician-patient relationship.


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