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The future looks holographic


Mixed reality applications blend the real world with digital information presented as 3D holograms

GPs will be holoported into people’s homes as part of a pioneering trial.

Holograms are touted as the next evolution in computing and they are coming to community care.

Large service provider Silver Chain is undertaking a world-first pilot to use ‘holoportation’ to deliver remote consultations by health professionals to clients in the community.

Healthcare professionals will be able to appear in real-time as holograms projected via the Microsoft HoloLens, a holographic computer that is worn as a headset.

Unlike virtual reality, which is a completely immersive experience for the user, Silver Chain is employing new mixed reality technology that combines both the digital and physical worlds.

Mixed reality technology works to overlay the real world with holographic objects, says Silver Chain CEO Dr Chris McGowan.

The community health and aged care organisation unveiled its Enhanced Medical Mixed Reality or EMMR application for Microsoft HoloLens at Microsoft’s Envision conference in Florida in late September.

The potential of holograms is currently being explored in a wide array of sectors from manufacturing to the air force, education, engineering as well as architecture and design.

McGowan says Silver Chain was attracted to the technology as way of increasing timely access to health and aged care in the home, and compared to video conferencing, EMMR can deliver an improved client experience.

“We saw a hologram of a doctor coming into the home as a way of increasing the client’s experience that they have had a consultation with a doctor,” McGowan tells Community Care Review. 

“As a patient, when you put the HoloLens on, your experience is you have a doctor sitting next to you. It’s kind of science fiction – a person appears in your room sitting down talking and conversing with you, and that for the patient is very comforting.

“In our culture people like to see the doctor, and that means feeling like the doctor is actually in the room with them.”

McGowan anticipates a wide range of uses for the technology, including situations where the computer headset is worn by clients and other times by Silver Chain staff wanting to interact with a remote health professional or specialist.

For example, using EMMR, a Silver Chain nurse visiting a client can use HoloLens to gain hands-free access to clients’ clinical data through a holographic dashboard, while the doctor can ‘see through the eyes of the nurse’ as the consultation takes place, says McGowan.

Other potential uses include in client assessment, nurse supervision and its hospital in the home programs, he says.

“There are lots of applications for EMMR, but a key reason we developed the technology was for a new program that centres on people who are receiving a level 4 home care package and are at risk of going into a nursing home.

“For those patients, we are building a new model which integrates general practice, pharmacy, aged care and rapid response nursing all into one. As part of that program, knowing a patient can get the doctor ‘hologramming’ in quickly will help build the confidence they need to stay at home.”

McGowan says technology has an important role to play in enabling people to be cared for in their own homes.

“One of the reasons people go into nursing homes is because they don’t have confidence that the system can support them with the level of care they need at home. Technology has an important role to play in giving clients and families the confidence that the system can wrap around them.”

When holoporting a doctor into a person’s home, Silver Chain will be using a capture room with 3D cameras, computing and lighting equipment.

McGowan says the small number of older people who have used the technology ahead of the pilot have reported a positive experience.

However, the trial will investigate the acceptance and use of the technology among a large cohort of clients and staff and the outcomes achieved, such as the impact on minimising unnecessary residential or hospital admissions.

Silver Chain has been working with Microsoft and software specialist Saab Australia to develop the application for a community care setting. McGowan and Silver Chain’s chief medical officer spent a week at Microsoft’s corporate headquarters in Redmond, Washington to begin developing the solution.

Saab is one of Microsoft’s 11 global partners working to develop the innovative mixed reality technology and the company has established a HoloLens Applications Studio and Centre of Excellence in Adelaide. Saab’s initial entry into mixed reality was a 3D visualisation tool for the Royal Australian Air Force.

In terms of potential hurdles, McGowan names computer processing speeds and bandwidth as key technology challenges.

However, McGowan says the NBN rollout and 5G networks will support the development of EMMR.

“We’re a bit ahead of the bandwidth story but bandwidth is unfolding pretty quickly so we’re not too worried.”

Visit Silver Chain’s YouTube channel for an introduction to EMMR.

This article appears in the current Summer edition of Community Care Review magazine.

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