Adopting immersive technologies can improve patient outcomes and save costs for healthcare providers.
Every day thousands of patients are tasked with making critical decisions about their healthcare. Often the issues are complex and can seem overwhelming, especially for people already under stress with health worries. The intensity of these decisions is increased exponentially when a life-threatening illness is involved, and to make matters worse, time is often of the essence. It is no exaggeration to say that making such decisions quickly and accurately can be a matter of life or death, so stakes are high.It is no exaggeration to say that making such decisions quickly and accurately can be a matter of life or death, so stakes are high Click To Tweet
In this report, I examine healthcare decision-making in patients. This is a critical issue that affects overall healthcare costs and patients’ quality of life. I ask whether current approaches to healthcare patient education lead to fast and accurate decisions and whether immersive technologies, such as virtual reality (VR), might improve matters, ultimately lowering costs and increasing patient satisfaction.
Traditional approaches to patient education are often ineffective because they target only one learning system in the brain. Processing in this system is adversely affected by the anxiety associated with making healthcare decision under pressure. Thus, patients often take longer to make these decisions and are often less accurate in the decisions that they do make.
In contrast, immersive technologies such as Virtual Reality are highly effective at engaging a broad set of learning systems in the brain. Critically, some of these systems are more immune to the adverse effects of anxiety and time pressure. Thus, patients make faster and more accurate decisions.Immersive technologies such as Virtual Reality are highly effective at engaging a broad set of learning systems in the brain Click To Tweet
Consider a patient being rushed to the hospital with kidney failure, for example. The patient is immediately placed on dialysis in the hospital and later speaks with their nephrologist. The nephrologist offers a plethora of detailed statistics regarding the patient’s condition and discusses some options. The nephrologist leaves the patient with a package of reading materials about two dialysis options: in-center (hemodialysis) and in-home (peritoneal dialysis). The nephrologist suggests that the patient read the materials and explore the Internet for additional information. The patient is urged to both consider the options in detail so as to make the right decision but also advised that they need to reach that decision as quickly as possible.
Theories of human decision-making abound in psychology and related fields, and a comprehensive review of these is beyond the scope of this current report. Suffice it to say, however, that all such theories of decision-making rely critically on the quality of the information available.
Simply put, a patient given high-quality information will be well informed and will make a faster more accurate decision, whereas a patient given low-quality information will be poorly informed and will make a slower, less accurate decision.A patient given high-quality information will be well informed and will make a faster more accurate decision Click To Tweet
The critical questions then becomes: “What actually constitutes high-quality information?”
With respect to patient education, high-quality information is information that leaves the patient feeling like they have experienced the medical procedure first-hand. It leaves them with a cognitive understanding of the steps associated with the medical procedure and a strong visual representation of the experience associated with that procedure, as well as an emotional understanding of what the procedure “feels” like.
The importance of a cognitive, experiential, and emotional understanding comes from our knowledge of the psychology and brain science of learning. Information is best represented in the brain when it engages multiple learning systems.
These include the cognitive learning system whose task it is to understand the steps of the medical procedure, visual learning regions in the brain whose task it is to represent the experience of receiving the medical procedure, and emotional learning centers tasked with enhancing the “feeling” of receiving that procedure. High-quality information that taps all three of these learning systems in the brain leads the patient to better acquire and retain that information.The importance of an experiential, emotional understanding comes from our knowledge of the psychology and brain science of learning. Information is best represented in the brain when it engages multiple learning systems Click To Tweet
By far the most common approach to patient education is to have patients read documents describing the relevant medical procedure. This might include a general overview, information about the steps associated with it, and quality of life issues. Using dialysis as an example, the patient might read a document that provides a general overview, the steps associated with undergoing in-clinic dialysis and the fact that this approach makes it difficult to travel. Similarly, the patient might read another document that provides a general overview of in-home dialysis, the associated steps, and the fact that sterilization is a critical issue with it.Even when supplemented with drawings or 2D video, a text-based information approach is nearly impossible for patients to fully absorb and one that is prone to error Click To Tweet
From a psychology and brain science perspective, this text-based approach only engages the cognitive skills learning system in the brain. From this 2D static, abstract, text-based information, the cognitive skills learning system must attempt to construct a rich 3D dynamic visual and emotional representation of what in-clinic and in-home dialysis are like “in real life”. Even when supplemented with drawings or 2D video, this is a nearly impossible task and one that is prone to error.
Now consider a VR approach to patient education. Suppose that a 360 VR experience was created in which that same patient could experience in-clinic and in-home dialysis from a first-person perspective (i.e., that of the patient) and a third-person perspective (i.e., that of a loved one). While immersed in this experience, a narrative unfolds for the patient that describes the relevant steps while the patient is experiencing them, and includes narrative regarding the strengths and weaknesses of each approach.While immersed in a VR experience, a narrative unfolds for the patient that describes the relevant steps while the patient is experiencing them, and includes narrative regarding the strengths and weaknesses of each approach Click To Tweet
From a psychology and brain science perspective, this approach engages the cognitive, experiential and emotional learning systems in the brain simultaneously and in concert. The cognitive learning system is being engaged and is storing the procedural overview and step-by-step procedure.
Experiential learning takes place as the patient is experiencing first-hand and third-person the dialysis procedure, and emotional learning occurs as the patient is “walking a mile in a dialysis patient’s shoes” during the VR experience. Supplement this with a strong narrative and compelling storytelling, and VR offers the highest quality information for patient decision-making. Taken together, this leads to fast and accurate decisions as well as significant cost savings and increased patient satisfaction.
For companies looking to get into Immersive technologies such as VR/AR/MR/XR our Virtual Reality Consultancy services offer guidance and support on how best to incorporate these into your brand strategy.
Todd Maddox is Science, Sports and Training Correspondent at Tech Trends, and the CEO of Cognitive Design and Statistical Consulting. Follow him on Twitter @wtoddmaddox