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Telemedicine Avatar Helps Physicians Better Manage Patient Care


A virtual nurse with remote diagnostic tools promises to save physicians time and money, while improving care.

Physicians, have you ever fantasized about having a body double to take on a portion of your workload? What if an avatar could actually help you monitor the health of your sickest patients?

As it turns out, such a scenario isn’t so far-fetched. Sense.ly, a healthcare IT startup and Allscripts App Challenge award recipient, recently launched its avatar-based program to help physicians better manage chronic-care patients.

Sense.ly’s flagship offering is a virtual online nurse equipped with a set of remote diagnostic tools. The difference between this and virtual visits, which many docs think of when they envision telemedicine: There is no need for physicians to be present online when patients are “seen” for monitoring purposes. The system works under the veneer of an avatar (the nurse who speaks to the patient) to detect vitals and other health information.

The in-home technology (see a video demo here) uses a combination of speech, gesture, and augmented reality, allowing patients to relay symptoms and medical queries to the automated avatar, who in turn prompts them to provide relevant information to monitor their symptoms. The goal: To help patients maintain a personal relationship with their own physician, and receive the personalized medical attention they are accustomed to, without the hassle of traveling to their physician’s office and waiting to be seen.

This saves both the physician and patient valuable time, said Ivana Schnur, co-founder and chief medical officer of Sense.ly. It also saves money, which will become increasingly important as cost-focused groups such as accountable care organizations (ACOs) gain traction.

“The model of medicine is changing,” Schnur, a non-practicing physician specializing in pain management with a doctorate in clinical psychology, told Physicians Practice. “We’re no longer going to be a reactive model of medicine. We’re going to have to switch to proactive medicine where we’re concerned about prevention, where we have to do wellness [checks] and other things. The quality of the care you’re offering is going to have to increase.”

Of course, there are still circumstances when even the most personable avatar cannot replace a live physician - or a real-live physician visit. To alert physicians to those circumstances, the Sense.ly program has built in triggers.

For example, if a diabetic patient’s blood sugar is too high for two or three days, the physician is notified and can take action so the patient doesn’t continue trending in the wrong direction and end up in a hospital emergency room.

While the avatar is not replacing the physician, as visits are still necessary, the platform allows physicians to save visits for more meaningful and necessary encounters.

“Your time is precious as a physician,” said Schnur. “You have to budget and triage the time you spend.”

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