Virtual clinic strives to facilitate access to health care advice

Virtual clinic visionary · Leslie Saxon, in collaboration with the Institute for Creative Technologies, aims to bring virtual doctors to patients. Kristen Zung | Daily Trojan

Two USC institutes are developing a Virtual Care Clinic to bring the health care system online.

The USC Center for Body Computing and the USC Institute for Creative Technologies collaborated to ensure that patients can access important information about their medical conditions anytime and anywhere.

Leslie Saxon, the founder and executive director of the Center for Body Computing, first conceived the idea of a Virtual Care Clinic. Saxon, who leads the project, is also the chief of the division of cardiovascular medicine at USC.

“I was inspired by the fact that we have so few highly trained specialists in the world and so many human beings across the world who need access to care,” Saxon said. “If you could just bring this leverage of specialists over a larger population, that would be really amazing.”

Scott Dorman, the managing director at the Center for Body Computing, said the main idea behind the project revolves around supporting each individual according to their needs.

“[Saxon’s] idea and her vision was to develop an entire ecosystem around a patient or a health care consumer that will be virtual,” Dorman said. “A patient or a general health care consumer or really anybody who owns a smartphone will be able to access a virtual doctor 24/7 anytime, anywhere that they choose.”

Dorman said most patients have the same kinds of general questions about their diet or precautions when they go to a doctor, so the purpose behind the virtual doctor program is for the patient to get basic information from virtual doctors. They can then spend more time asking more important questions unique to their own condition when they physically visit the doctor. Virtual doctors can provide contextualized, high-quality information to the patients whenever they need it.

“This system wouldn’t prescribe you medication or wouldn’t give you a diagnosis,” Dorman said. “The most difficult part is that there are so many different complex layers and pieces to a worthwhile project like this … that we believe can truly change the health care system.”

Saxon said the goal of this project is to create a global health care system such that doctors will be able to help patients who are at different locations. Patients will feel more empowered and knowledgeable. She emphasized that the Virtual Care Clinic will be especially helpful for those who live with certain chronic diseases, as it will integrate them with their caregivers and doctors and provide them with the right kind of information.

“As a practicing physician, I want to spend my time on the patients who need me, not on people who don’t require me and who could be cured … digitally,” Saxon said.

The virtual doctors will provide tailored information based on the patient’s characteristics and where they live, according to Saxon. The virtual doctors can not only talk to patients but also reply with empathy, Saxon said.

Dorman added that the Institute for Creative Technologies plays an important part in the development of this project.

“Our strategic partner is the Institute for Creative Technologies that does all the computer rendering of virtual doctors,” Dorman said. “We are very closely aligned with them on this project, and they are the ones who are responsible for really creating the virtual characters, which may be used for other purposes.”

The Virtual Care Clinic application hopes to provide information in many different languages, so that it can become a global tool.

“We will provide them [with] information that they can then use and hopefully engage in more preventive behavior,” Dorman said. “We just want to try and prevent people from getting to the point where they are suffering with a disease and allowing it to get to such a stage where they require emergency medical care.”