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Wearable cognitive assistance: What is it, and what can it achieve?

Wearable cognitive assistance might be the new edge hospitals and health systems need to improve their clinical processes and gain cost efficiencies.

The technology, which combines AI-enabled devices with edge computing, can help humans accomplish tasks with greater efficacy by offering them virtual instructions and sometimes by connecting them with other people who can assist them.

For instance, a surgeon might use the software as part of special glasses that offer a presurgery checklist tailored to specific patients. Augmented reality could offer enhanced visualizations and easy access to view a patient’s medical history – helping improve patient safety while reducing the time needed to perform a given procedure.

Deloitte has a recent report about how WCA could change workflow and processes in healthcare and elsewhere. We asked one of its authors, Deloitte managing director Apan Tiwari, a few questions about the technology, and how health systems should be deploying it.

Q. What is wearable cognitive assistance, briefly, and why should healthcare leaders be interested in it?

A. Wearable cognitive assistance refers to wearable devices that are fused with computer vision and edge computing, enabling advanced human interactions to solve complex real-world problems. What separates WCA devices from other wearable devices is that WCA uses AI-enabled, task-specific software that verifies the work has been correctly completed and, if needed, can connect to live human experts for assistance.

There is a lot of potential in the healthcare space for WCA; select examples include:

  • Advanced surgical training. There are emerging technologies currently on the market that could be used for basic surgical training. However, with WCA, the AI-enabled, task-specific software can provide real-time feedback to surgeons – making the training much more effective. What’s incredible about this technology is you remove geographic barriers by being able to train surgeons across the world with the latest surgical techniques this way. It also encourages us to dream about what that level of training access could do to elevate healthcare in emerging economies.

  • Surgery support. The task-specific software can guide a surgeon during an actual surgery, with the option of dialing in an expert if the situation demands, or as a tool that surgeons can use for planning surgeries, with the task-specific software on the device giving recommendations/options.

  • Smart repair and maintenance. Our paper talks about repair and maintenance scenarios, which are applicable to hospital/pharmaceutical equipment as well.

Q. How do 5G and edge computing work in tandem with WCA technologies?

A. WCA devices need to be:

  1. compact (They are wearables)

  2. powerful (to verify/suggest actions in real-time)

  3. while offering decent battery life (without overheating).

This balancing act requires augmenting on-device storage and compute with more expansive edge computing infrastructure, all connected via a high-speed, low-latency wireless connection such as 5G.

This would enable the WCA devices to integrate real-time image capture, processing, action validation and recommending an action through AI-infused, task-specific software in a compact form factor.

Q. What is the big potential in the years ahead for how these tools evolve?

A. Globally, the market for enterprise wearables is forecast to grow exponentially over the coming decade. WCA devices are a subset of the broader enterprise wearables market and could see a lot of traction in the years to come.

Q. What are some challenges that will need addressing along the way?

A. Standards for WCA implementations do not exist, nor can you buy off-the-shelf WCA solutions yet.

Low-latency wireless plus edge for indoor use is ready for prime time now, using fixed-wireless public 5G or private 5G/ Wi-Fi plus on-premise edge. In general, mobile-outdoor use cases will require expanded 5G coverage from telecommunication companies.

Any new technology will introduce new cybersecurity and privacy vulnerabilities that must be addressed in advance of implementation. Similarly, protected information captured from wearables must meet stringent data privacy requirements, particularly in the healthcare space.

Q. What should hospital and health system IT decision-makers be doing to properly capitalize on the benefits of WCA tools?

A. In my opinion, one should always start with the problem statement: What are you trying to solve for, why does it matter, and what is the return?

Once the above is clear and well understood, one should start thinking of the solution, which may have a WCA component. Most likely the solution is going to be an ecosystem play and the decision-makers will need to bring in the right:

  • Systems integrator(s).

  • Device OEMs.

  • 5G/Wi-Fi network provider.

  • On-prem/edge/cloud compute and storage provider.

  • Specialized software OEM, etc.

Selection of these partners is going to be contextual given the problem statement and solution architecture.

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITNEmail the writer: mike.miliard@himssmedia.comHealthcare IT News is a HIMSS publication.

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