USC crafts tech system using mobile apps, AI to expand care

Virtual Care Clinic creates doctor duplicates to give medical advice, enabling Keck Medicine of USC physicians to focus on higher-risk patients and take full advantage of IT.

Information technology has finally achieved the latest in addressing physicians’ shortage of time—at a California testbed, it will enable doctors to be in two places at once.

Using technology developed at the USC Institute of Creative Technologies, the university’s Center for Body Computing’s Virtual Care Clinic program will let physicians connect with low-risk patients through a mobile app that will enable doctors to create a digital self.

In addition to its collaboration with ICT, the USC CBC is working with several partners to establish its VCC ecosystem. They include Doctor Evidence, IMS Health, Karten Design, Medable, Planet Grande, Proteus Digital Health and VSP Global.

Using mobile apps, "virtual doctors," data collection and analysis systems, world-class diagnostic and wearable sensors coupled with experiential design and engaging, expert patient health information, the VCC delivers wireless, on-demand access to Keck Medicine of USC experts while doctors go beyond telemedicine models for remote management and care of patients regardless of location.

The solution expects to use mobile apps, wearable sensors, virtual human healthcare providers, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), data collection, analytics and artificial intelligence using digital communication tools to provide a seamless, integrated system where patients anywhere in the world can access medical care and content.

By using the app to triage patients, participating physicians will be able to make better use of their time and get more done at one time. Essentially, it will enable them to be in the operating room while handling patient inquiries as if they were in their offices.

The app is expected to help physicians spend the bulk of their time and resources on high-risk patients, program executives say.

“I can really focus my time on patients who aren’t doing well,” says USC Center for Body Computing Executive Director Leslie Saxon, MD. About 60 percent of a physician’s time is spent on computer work, which could be better used on patient care, she says.

To maximize that time, the VCC offers an AI option, which effectively “clones” doctors to dispense commonly asked and evergreen answers to provide better quality.

“The AI platform is not there to prescribe drugs,” says Saxon. “My virtual human is delivering content based on long clinical experiences.”

The smartphone app would provide patients with standardized medical advice that doesn’t exist in person, says Saxon. Through the VCC, doctors can leverage digital tools to communicate with patients via text or photo messaging.

The app asks patients to put in their medical information and then curates medical content on their condition depending on factors such as age, race, gender and comorbidity.

Experts at the USC Eye Institute and the USC Institute of Urology will be the first to access the VCC. The data that powers the program comes from medical literature, peer-reviewed data and targeted searches, among other sources.

If the VCC makes its way to the commercial space, the data will be subjected to the same level of scrutiny as does research, Saxon says. She also notes the language used in these sources is medical, so it is the VCC team’s responsibility to give patients access to information in language that they can understand.

“We’re working on ways to present data to patients that’s easier to understand,” she says. This includes educating patients on the lingo doctors use; “things that we talk about all the time,” she says, and giving patients the best data possible.

The VCC eventually expects all 1,500 faculty/physician experts, surgeons and researchers at Keck Medicine of USC will become involved in using the app.

While it might take a few years to put the app in the hands of the average consumer, Saxon says she has high expectations of its impact on the industry. Financially, she expects the VCC to cut healthcare costs by increasing the efficiency of front-line clinicians.

“It’s completely scalable because it’s wireless,” she says. “Patients won’t have to come in.”

You can watch an introductory video here.

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