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March 14, 2019
AUSTRALIAN HEALTH PROVIDERS LAG AS AI AND VR BLUR DIGITAL AND REAL WORLD BOUNDARIES
By: Christian Nejm

The line between physical and digital worlds really is increasingly blurry. As daily practical application of artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) mature, an increasingly omni-faceted experience of life integrates consumer activities with targeted, relevant experiences across digital platforms. Alexa and Google Home are gradually being adopted as new family members, as home bots move ever closer to satisfying our every whim. Unfortunately for us, Australian health providers are proving slower than their counterparts in other geographies to realise the potential of VR and AI. The Australian public is being made to wait longer than citizens in the UK and elsewhere for both the benefits and convenience of artificially intelligent healthcare services.

The Augmented Age

The “Augmented Age” isn’t limited to any particular industry. In financial services, physical human capabilities are being replaced by advanced computing systems like robo-traders and robo-advisors. In the gaming industry, the Pokemon Go has seen the digital world is entering the physical world to a very significant extent. The healthcare industry is no exception.

For example, HoloAnatomy enables students to overcome practical obstacles, reducing dependence on a physical anatomy labs and two-dimensional text books by means of an integrated virtual learning experience.

Australian consumers are pushing

According to the Accenture 2018 Consumer Survey on Digital Health, Australians are embracing new technologies, with 75 percent reporting high confidence when using new technologies, and 78 percent saying they are positive or indifferent about technology replacing traditional healthcare services.

For instance, in 2018, Microsoft Holoens partnered with Silverchain, to develop the Enhanced Medical Mixed Reality (EMMR) interface. EMMR will enable real-time interaction with medical professionals via hologram technology. The mixed reality tech will allow care providers to share information hands-free, and in future will record patient data in real time, via a virtual dashboard.

In my view, truly transformational change will occur when we allow the blurring of digital and physical, supported by intelligent machines to move from the trials and pilots to the mainstream. The focus should not be on the technology as a standalone, but on an end to end healthcare experience irrespective of whether a given current touchpoint is physical or digital.

The Accenture 2018 Executive Survey on AI in Healthcare shows that an impressive 72 percent of health leaders polled say they are either piloting or planning AI adoption. Perhaps even more impressive: Ninety-three percent of health execs confirmed they have AI projects on their agenda, with just seven percent saying they are minimally or not at all focussed on AI.

Australian providers are lagging

The Survey also indicates that only about half as many Australian health executives as in other countries surveyed, reported they were using AI effectively (23 percent vs 40 percent). If Australian healthcare organisations don’t continue adopting AI in step with comparable health systems around the world, Australians are likely to lose out. Health systems are naturally risk averse because an error can involve human lives. However, excessive caution can also hamstring improved health outcomes that can arise from innovation.

The opportunities are limitless. The quicker providers, funders and regulators realise this and are able to embrace the technology—the sooner we will see a revelation in how care is delivered, and new, innovative care models can emerge.

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