SALT LAKE CITY — Virtual therapy, 3-D printing and video chats with physicians may sound futuristic, but Intermountain Healthcare is working on making them reality.
The various technologies, some of them still prototypes, are helping one of Utah's health care leaders to imagine the future of ongoing industry reform.
Quality remains a top priority for the organization, but cutting costs is an important part of making health care more accessible for patients, said Intermountain Vice President and Chief Information Officer Marc Probst.
Intermountain hosted dozens of partners for a two-day conference, Mindshare, at The Canyons Resort this week, hoping to gather feedback on the "direction we're going and the philosophies that drive us," Probst said.
"I think we have a lot of good ideas, but we certainly don't have a corner on the market of good ideas," he said.
On display was a project that is being developed with help from Microsoft that Probst said will transform the way medicine is delivered in the near future. Providers can use the motion-sensing technology of Kinect, commonly used in video games, to improve patient care, especially in sports therapy and rehabilitation.
Not only will it track the motions a patient is making during physical therapy exercises, but the device and accompanying software can track that patient's habits and how often therapy is being done. It's still in the works, but will be an exciting way to work out when it is available.
Other ideas include a 4-foot-tall patient conferencing robot, which offers two-way communications for a physician to remotely monitor patient progress. The Care Connectivity Consortium, which was announced in 2011, is an initiative set about by Intermountain that is helping get patient information to whatever health system they are being treated in. It is a partnership among five leading health care systems in the United States.
It all is part of combating the rising costs of health care, Probst said.
Virtual Visit is a video chat technology being implemented by a select group of Intermountain and Microsoft employees in April. If all goes well, the service will be available to others mid-year. The innovative technology aims to give patients access to physicians via modalities other than in-person visits, possibly freeing up expensive beds in emergency departments statewide.
"Wouldn't it be nice if you could go into your office, close the door and have a secure encounter with your physician," Probst said, adding that the tele-health technology will hopefully help to route patients to the appropriate care setting.
"We see it as a really advanced triage," he said. "Perhaps people would utilize the preventive components of health care better if they had more ready access."
And while some of the technologies presented might not have as practical of a medical application as the Kinect project or video chat, Probst said sharing them helps to educate Intermountain's major players, and "be thinking about ways to do things better."