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Photos: Avatars, virtual doctors and 24/7 telemedicine - the future of healthcare

MIT shows off system aiming to be the doctor in your pocket
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By Nick Heath, Contributor on
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MIT shows off system aiming to be the doctor in your pocket

Researchers at the Media Labs at Massachusetts Institute of Technology are working on a project which aims to connect patients to their doctor 24/7, known as CollaboRhythm.

The project, run by Dr John Moore, hopes to use mobile devices, touchscreen displays and avatars to give patients more control and understanding of their treatment.

An avatar (pictured above), or software agent as it's known, asks the patient a series of questions about their care before they see their GP.

The patient's answers are sent to the doctor over a secure internet connection, providing the GP with information they need to diagnose or treat the patient, and allowing them to better prepare for the consultation.

The agent can also be set up to answer simple queries, as well as remind patients when to take medicines or give them automated results of medical tests, for example, providing blood sugar level readings to diabetics.

"Right now doctors and nurses do a lot of robotic work that is a waste of their time," Moore told silicon.com.

"The aim of the agent is not to be smart but to be a drone that is accessible 24 hours a day."

At present the avatar is available via a website and interacts with patients using a speech recognition system.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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Under the CollaboRhythm system, a touchscreen display would be installed in the doctor's office to allow the patient and the doctor to jointly choose what medication the patient should be taking and when.

The patient and the doctor can pick up and drag the medication to different times of day using the touchscreen interface.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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Once the patient has left the doctor's surgery they can download an app for their mobile phone that provides information and feedback on when they should be taking their medication.

The pie chart pictured above shows the times at which the patient should be taking the different kinds of medication that they are on.

The app can also display details on a patient's diet and exercise plan, and other information such as projected blood sugar levels.

Patients can also use the app to record new symptoms, when they took their medication, side effects and other healthcare information, all of which is uploaded to their doctor's computer systems on an hourly basis.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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The app also features a graph that shows the amount of medication in a patient's bloodstream, providing an indication of when they need to take their next dose.

In the current version of the app, the graph is based on projections of how much of the drug will be present in the bloodstream, according to when the patient last took their medication.

In future, Moore said the app will be able to map the exact levels of a drug in a patient's bloodstream, taking data from portable blood analysis sensors.

The app also allows the patient to take part in videoconference calls with their GP through their mobile phone.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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5 of 5 Nick Heath/ZDNET

The system also uses data visualisation to make it easier for patients to understand how their medication is helping them.

This is a visual representation of how anti-HIV medicine is protecting a patient's white blood cells from infection by the HIV virus.

The image shows the healthy white blood cells as blue circles, encircled by a multi-coloured barrier to represent the shield the medication is providing against the HIV-infected white blood cells, represented by pink circles.

The ratio of healthy to infected cells is based on data from the patient's last blood test.

As time passes from when the patient last took their medication, the barrier dissolves and the infected cells will begin attacking the healthy cells, providing patients with an vivid illustration of how the medication is helping to protect them against HIV.

The CollaboRhythm system and the app has been trialled with a handful of HIV patients in the Boston area.

He said it's often difficult to get people to take their medication to protect against HIV because of the unpleasant side effects of some anti-HIV drugs and the length of time it takes for HIV to develop into Aids.

"People with HIV are told that 'If you do not take this medicine you will die' and less than 50 per cent take that medication," he said.

"You are taking something that could be five years away, which the patient cannot see, and making it immediate. It shows the patient the sort of damage that is going on."

Moore said his goal is to have a handful of doctors' practices using the CollaboRhythm system with a small number of patients within three years and for the system to be in use at multiple practices within 10 years.

Photo credit: Nick Heath/silicon.com

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