A growing number of doctors in Taiwan are using Microsoft HoloLens as part of their telehealth practice when making house calls on elderly patients who cannot go out because of COVID-19 restrictions.
When general practitioner Dr. Cheng Chao-Hsen wanted the second opinion of a rheumatology specialist during a house call on a patient diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, he simply put on a HoloLens 2 mixed-reality headset – and within minutes, he was collaborating with the specialist at the hospital in a real-time patient examination.
Linked via the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Remote Assist app and Microsoft Teams, the specialist was able to talk with the patient, examine his hand and see what Cheng was seeing. It soon became clear the original diagnosis had been wrong. Instead of rheumatoid arthritis the patient was actually suffering from a degenerative form of arthritis and needed different medication.
Normally, getting checked for a second opinion meant waiting days or weeks for an appointment and transporting the patient, who is a person with limited mobility, to a hospital many kilometres away.
With the current pandemic, community doctors like Cheng have adopted telehealth using tools like the HoloLens to take the new medical practice to the next level.
Fitted with sensors, cameras and Wi-Fi connectivity, HoloLens is a pair of smart glasses, which is an untethered self-contained holographic device used in enterprise-ready applications. In healthcare settings, medical professionals can connect with remote experts, and call up patient data and go beyond x-rays to consult MRI images in 3D at the point of care.
Wearing the mixed-reality headset with a patient at home, Cheng can access medical records and bring a specialist for a real-time virtual consultation via its audio and video feeds. With Azure Spatial Anchor, HoloLens gives doctors, nurses, and hospital volunteers a new set of eyes and ears on house calls.
Previously, a doctor on a house call might consult a specialist by phone, text message or via video recordings or simply refer patients to them.
Nurses can also use the HoloLens for house calls. Doctors at a remote hospital can guide a nurse through a patient examination and help diagnose what is wrong. In a virtual sense, this upgrades a nurse’s visit to a doctor-level visit. In the meantime, more doctors are freed up to focus on urgent cases at the hospital.
Telehealth finds its legs
Taiwan’s progressive healthcare system enables the rapid adoption of telehealth in the country. Now, COVID-19 has pushed many more medical professionals to embrace the practice as it allow them to treat more patients remotely and avoid unnecessary exposure to the virus.
Dr. Vincent Tsai, the superintendent of the Ten-Chan General Hospital in Taoyuan, Taiwan, where Cheng also works, is optimistic about the possibilities of telehealth.
“Patients can get feedback on their condition in real time and avoid risking contact with COVID-19 in a hospital,” says Tsai, a urologist. “With the HoloLens, I can access patient medical records, blood test results, X-rays, and other data when I’m with a patient at their home, so I don’t need to travel with these documents in-hand.”
Using the HoloLens, he notes, significantly speeds up treatment time compared to setting up in-person appointments with specialists.
“After the pandemic, we plan to continue a push for further telehealth adoption,” says Tsai. The Ten-Chan General Hospital is now using telehealth for three main applications: check-ups and medical record access, long-term care, and training and research and development.
Conserving medical resources
Telehealth advocate Norman Hsu, sees the benefits of helping hospitals conserve resources by allowing doctors to treat patients remotely. He hopes the practice will be adopted nationwide.
“Taiwan has an aging population and doctors are being stretched thin,” said Hsu, who is chairman of Ten-Chan General Hospital. “There just aren’t enough doctors and specialists to go around. But with telemedicine and HoloLens, we can give more patients quality consultations with doctors and specialists in real time.”
Over 10,000 families in Taiwan subscribe to senior care services for their older relatives. As a COVID-19 high-risk group, the residents at Ten-Chan General Hospital’s nursing homes benefit from telehealth by getting personalised treatment without risking exposure to the virus at a hospital.
Cheng, Tsai and other frontline workers at the hospital are finding a new sense of confidence in their work by providing better, faster, cheaper and smarter healthcare from the comfort of a patient’s home.
With COVID-19 infections rising globally, Taiwan’s telehealth movement is at the cusp of a wider rollout across the Asia Pacific region. Hsu is optimistic: “I truly believe this is the future of healthcare and the pandemic is just accelerating what we already knew was coming.”