Virtual Reality Offers New Options For Healthcare Data Analysis

Posted on September 21, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been interested in virtual reality. In fact, given my long-time gaming habit, I’ve been waiting with bated breath for the time when VR-enabled games become part of the consumer mainstream.

Until I read the following article, however, I hadn’t given much thought to how VR technology could be used outside of the consumer sphere. In the article, the author makes a compelling case that VR tools may be the next frontier in big data analytics.

The author’s arguments include the following:

  • VR use allows big data users to analyze data dynamically, as it allows users to “reach out and touch” the data they are studying.
  • Using an approach known as immersive data visualization, coupled with haptic or kinesthetic interfaces, users can understand data intuitively and discover patterns.
  • VR allows users to view and manipulate huge amounts of data simply by looking at them. “VR enables you to capably stack relevant data, pare it and create visual cues so that you can cross-refer instantly,” the author writes.
  • With VR tools, users can interact naturally with data. Rather than glancing at reports, or reviewing spreadsheets, they can “manipulate data streams, push windows around, press buttons and actually walk around data worlds,” the article says.
  • VR makes multi-dimensional data analysis simpler. By using their hands and hearing, you just can pin down the subject, location and significance of specific data sources.

Though these concepts have been percolating for quite a while, I haven’t found any robust use cases for VR-based big data analytics either in or outside of healthcare. (They may well exist, and if you know of one above to hear about it.)

Still, a wide range of healthcare-related VR applications are emerging, including both inpatient care and medical education. I don’t think it will be long now before smart health IT leaders like yourselves begin to apply this approach to healthcare data visualization.

Ultimately, it seems likely that some of the healthcare data technologies are in play will converge with VR applications. By combining immersive or partially-immersive VR technologies with AI and big data analytics tools, healthcare organizations will be able to transform their data-guided outcomes efforts far more easily. And future use cases abound.

Hospitals could use VR to model throughput within the ED and, by layering clinical and transactional data over traffic statistics, doing a much better job of boosting efficiency.

I imagine health insurers combining claims records and clinical performance data, then using VR to as a next-gen tool predict how value-based care contracting play out in certain markets.

We may even see a time when surgeons wear VR glasses and, when perplexed in mid-procedure, can summon big data-driven feedback on options that improve patient survival.

Of course, VR is just set of technologies, and it can’t offer answers to questions we don’t know to ask. However, I do think that by people using their intuition more effectively, VR-based data analysis may extract new and valuable insights from existing data sets. It may take a while for this to happen, but I believe that it will.