Virtual doctors could bring health information to patients' smartphones with a new app being developed at the University of Southern California. Jane Ross reports.
Cardiologist Leslie Saxon can't be everywhere at once, but in the near future, maybe her digital avatar can. (SOUNDBITE) (English) AVATAR OF CARDIOLOGIST LESLIE SAXON SAYING: "Hi, I'm cardiac electrophysiologist Dr Leslie Saxon." The goal with the DocOn smartphone app is to give patients a new option to obtain medical information from a healthcare provider they know and trust instead of watching a video or searching for information online. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PATIENT, INTERACTING WITH VIRTUAL DOCTOR, SAYING: "OK, well what is atrial fibrillation?" Saxon says digital doctors will be key in the ongoing efforts to personalize medical care. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. LESLIE SAXON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE USC CENTER FOR BODY COMPUTING, SAYING "I can continually update my virtual human, make her better. Otherwise why not just make a bunch of videos, right? But this way I can actually learn you and your disease over time." Computer scientist Ari Shapiro constructed Saxon's avatar. He says the technology to create digital humans has come a long way, allowing a person's individual expressions and mannerisms to be captured. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ARI SHAPIRO, RESEARCH ASSISTANT PROFESSOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, SAYING: "Capturing the doctor with how they are and how they express themselves would be important, as opposed to, for example, getting medical advice or information from a cartoon doctor, which you might not feel is legitimate." Going forward, Saxon hopes these types of digital tools will not only be able to answer patients' questions but also collect life-saving medical data using smartphone sensors, to help doctors treat their patients. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. LESLIE SAXON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE USC CENTER FOR BODY COMPUTING "So this way I capture your arrhythmia when you have it for the phone on where you were that day. I'll know how much activity you did just pulling from the sensors on this thing." Giving doctors a new way to monitor their patients' health in the digital age.