The Medicine Meets Virtual Reality conference is a snapshot of the healthcare (r)evolution: four days of progress reports, thirty hours of ten-minute glimpses at the creative genius that is shaping the future of healthcare.
In the six years since we first undertook to plan the conference, virtual reality, as both technology and concept, has become a catch-phrase. What was once literally unheard-of seems now nearly ubiquitous. Furthermore, in the six years since MMVR was first held, healthcare, as both social concern and industry, has changed from being an isolated domain of trained insiders to an omnipresent subject of public scrutiny and concern.
In the eons since humans first practiced the art of healing, medicine has evolved from alchemy to art. From magic potions to chemotherapy, from chanting to irradiation, from poultices to robotics; we've come a long way. Think of the transfer of technology devised to image earth from space now being used to detect breast disease. Miraculous means of diagnosis and treatment appear, as if by magic, every day. And all of the science and technology we have devised serves no higher purpose than ministering to our fellow beings.
However, all the art, science, and technology we can devise are meaningless without the artist. The miraculous means are merely tools for healthcare professionals who serve us. The shaman placed her life on edge to reach the healing state which enabled her to effect a cure. The physician of today sets her life apart, for education and training which will enable her to devote her life to being able to heal.
Virtual reality in medicine: telemedicine, robotics, simulation and the rest are nothing more than the ability to create the “laying on of hands” where it was not possible before. These new technologies are not devised to create a separation between doctor and patient, but the possibility of joining them across space and even time.
As in other arts, creativity in medicine requires financial support. It takes money to enable doctors and researchers to focus on endeavors which may not produce any short-term reward. However, in the current system of healthcare, the role of managers—insurance and system administrators—seems to be changing from encouraging patron to repressive master. Instead of promoting healing whenever possible, managers now seem to deny care whenever legally feasible. Paradoxically, it is they who profit most from the creative application of science and technology. Doctors are working harder than ever before and are miraculously breaking old barriers to human well-being. Yet we hear people asking: Do we all have access to the resulting benefits? Why does it seem the profits are going to the managers and not to those who are creating? Why doesn't it seem doctors are saying (and doing) something about it?
While spiritual healers treat the maladies of the soul, doctors (and their assistants) are entrusted with our physical selves. Our nation's political foundation guarantees the freedom to get help for our soul, so why is it so different for our body? The laying on of hands (in either context ) should never be denied to a fellow citizen, or really, to a fellow human.
Science and technology will not be the challenge of the next century. Discovery is the natural outgrowth of communication and commitment. The challenge lies in enabling the artists to perform their magic, and in making sure that we, as patients, are the beneficiaries of the (r)evolution.
Karen S. Morgan and James D. Westwood
Aligned Management Associates, Inc.
San Diego, California