Healthcare Technology Featured Article

June 11, 2013

Healthcare Facilities Beta Test a Virtual 'Online Nurse' for Treatment

It’s no secret that healthcare is getting more expensive in this country. As the population ages – consider that even the youngest of the Baby Boomers will be reaching 50 soon – the demand for healthcare and age-related health services such as physical therapy will only rise.

For at least one healthcare group, the answer is a computerized, artificial “therapist” named Molly, who only exists as an avatar on a computer screen. At the San Mateo Medical Center in California, physical therapy patients often wait for the next available therapist. Sometimes, it’s Molly.

Under the watchful eye on the facility’s director of rehabilitation services, Molly interviews patients in English or Spanish, depending on preference, and asks users about the levels of pain they feel as a video guides them through exercises while the 3D cameras of a Microsoft Kinect device measure their movements, according to a recent article in MIT Technology Reviews.

While the sessions with Molly are conducted on-site for now – it’s still part of a pilot program – the ultimate goal is to allow the sessions to be conducted from patients’ homes.

“It would change our whole model,” Paul Carlisle, the director of rehabilitation services for the facility, told MIT Technology Review.  “We don’t want to replace therapists. But in some ways, it does replace the need to have them there all the time.”

At a time when many facilities are seeing static budgets, or even budget cuts, physical therapy centers are looking for unique ideas to offer service to all patients who require it while keeping costs under control.

The technology behind “Molly” is supplied by a California-based startup called, a virtual “online nurse” equipped with a set of remote diagnostic tools. Using speech recognition technology from Nuance, augmented reality, and medical devices, can quickly assess a patient’s condition and provide caregivers with relevant insights for meaningful follow-up. The solution is currently in beta and is being tested at other facilities, including alcohol and addiction treatment centers.

Edited by Alisen Downey
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