Digital Health Meetup at CHLA – Los Angeles, Oct. 12

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Digital Health Meetup at CHLA – Los Angeles, Oct. 12

What is virtual reality?

Dr. Skip Rizzo, director of Medical Virtual Reality at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies and Research Professor at USC, has two kinds of responses.

In one sense, it’s a combination of technologies – computer; an interface that allows the user to interact with the computer in a natural way; body trackers; sensory display, all in the service of creating simulations, or things people can interact with. It’s the computer-generated simulation of three-dimensional images or environments that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment.

But in Rizzo’s favored sense, a human-centric one, it’s “ basic human-computer interaction, ways for humans to interact with computers and extremely complex data in a more natural way.”

At Health Technology Forum’s most recent Los Angeles event on Oct. 12 at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Rizzo spoke at length about his research and work with virtual reality, splitting his time with Ellen Sloan, founder and CEO of SoCapTech, and two demos by digital health startups Agile Consent and OncoGambit. Though the four presenting bodies covered vastly different subjects, there was one connecting thread – the desire to use technology to help ease people’s lives, medically.

Rizzo’s talk was studded by examples of his work – one module showed attendees how a soldier might be helped through his PTSD with virtual reality, which won him the American Psychological Association’s 2010 Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Treatment of Trauma; another showed how children with extreme motor impairments might still be able to play educational games; still another demonstrated how different VR scenarios can help build the confidence of someone on the autism spectrum going in for a job interview.

A veteran of VR, Rizzo hails from the USC Institute for Creative Technologies, calling it a sort of “unholy alliance between Hollywood, the military and academia,” because some of their projects are funded by the military.

“We’ve done some work helping treat soldiers with PTSD,” Rizzo said. “You can test how well they perform in virtual environments to determine if they’re fit to return to duty.”

But Rizzo and the Institute’s work doesn’t stop at military-focused projects. He’s also worked on modules testing children’s attention capacities and focus under a range of highly controllable conditions in the VR simulation – think animated paper airplanes being flung across a digital room. By far, though, Rizzo’s work creating virtual humans has perhaps been the most impactful.

“When I say virtual humans, I mean characters that have some level of artificial intelligence,” Rizzo said, cuing up a module the Institute built for USC’s School of Social Work. “One area we’ve focused on over the years is virtual patients and ways we can train doctors, novice clinicians, with them. We can give novice clinicians in training a chance to screw up a bunch with virtual patients before they get their hands on a live one.”

Another such software resides currently at Keck Medical Center, where medical educators can go in and author patients, draw from an array of 40 different kinds of characters with different ages, gender, ethnic backgrounds, and program in the different symptom packages and conversational elements they need trainees to be able to identify and work with.

“In medical school, you get the option of training with standardized patients, actor patients,” Rizzo said. “But their living imitations are not consistent. Often, you don’t have good kid actors who can play certain roles in pediatrics, or elderly folk. [With a system like this] you can disseminate training and monitor training activities.”

The tool will also help in training clinical psychologists.

Sloan, the second speaker at the event, discussed her work with SoCapTech – a company that designs functional websites and mobile applications for other organizations, and also works to make sure that the data collected by these sites is securely stored and easy to analyze.

Although Sloan’s background was in finance, investment, philanthropic service and accounting, learning to code made a massive difference in her career and life, allowing her to create enterprises like SoCapTech and their first app – MoGoMe, which assist social service agencies to better serve their clients. Her experience as CEO/COO/CRO of Social Rhythm, which developed a mobile phone app to provide support for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities, also prepared her for SoCapTech.

Agile Consent is a sort of storage site for informed surgery consent that eliminates papers and automatically populates fields with appropriate patient and procedure information, including risks, benefits and alternatives. They showed a video about how their application works, as did representatives from OncoGambit, a web application that helps cancer patients find other opinions.

One of many of HTF’s recent meetups, the CHLA event created another platform and connection for those interested in making healthcare better and more immersive to collaborate. The effects of the subsequent discussion will hopefully be felt soon.

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