Using Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality to Change our Practice

March 21, 2018

By Erin Sherer, PA-C, RD

Whether you like it or not, technology is changing the way we practice medicine and surgery.  Most hospitals and private practices have converted to computerized data formats to manage each patient's information.  With this transformation from paper to computer, we might be able to improve patient care in more ways than we initially imagined.

Data collection, while tedious at times, can make significant improvements in care.  An example that saves me nearly every day at work is the fact that my hospital's electronic patient chart alerts me if I am about to prescribe a medication that my patient may have an allergy to or that may interact with another of his or her medications.  While I often do ask patients about their allergies, I sometimes do not recognize potential interactions between their current medications and something new that I might be prescribing to them. This is just one example of how potentially lifesaving having this data can be.

Those in the technology sector may refer to this collection of information and the potential we have to use it to our advantage as "big data."  Big data provides us with an ability to analyze information in ways that we may not have previously understood. For example, the artificially intelligent computer system, IBM Watson, has the ability to rummage through information and identify patterns about patient care that we might miss if we were manually going through the data.

In most instances, medical decision-making is complicated.  We must think about each patient individually, while also considering the most up-to-date practice guidelines in order to formulate a decision.  At any given time, most of us are only aware of "a fraction of the available data relevant to a given case" (Bruce and Hinshaw, 2015). Technology is changing this for us.  Advances in artificial intelligence allow algorithms to go through all of the data and make sense of it. Because of this, providers have more information than previously imagined.  Artificial intelligence can help us make the best decision without forcing us to do all of the ground work. This can enhance our ability to make complex decisions.

Another example of incorporating technology into practice is the use of virtual reality.  While this technology may have been initially designed to improve the videogame experience, it is now being used to improve patient care.  Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset, has been involved in trials for use in surgery (McNamee, 2015). While virtual reality simulations have been done before, this new platform provides a much more affordable option that may allow for advanced training to those who need to practice performing procedures.  Virtual reality now makes it possible to train medical professionals in a no-risk simulated environment. Additionally, it is likely that virtual reality will allow medical providers to "share cases, surgeries, 3D imagery, and visualize complex data" (McNamee, 2015).

While these advances can be exciting to some, and terrifying to others, the future is around the corner and it will likely change our practice forever.  Artificial intelligence has the potential to teach us more about our patients and our practice patterns than we could ever learn on our own. And, virtual reality is a promising tool that has endless opportunities to support skill training for clinicians.  So, despite any reservations we may have about incorporating technology into practice, we must move forward and accept the changes as they come.


Bruce, A., Hinshaw, D. Artificial intelligence and modern healthcare: a mindful controversy?  Retrieved from:

McNamee, D. Can surgeons be trained using gaming technology?  Retrieved from: