With some of the world’s largest tech companies seeking a foothold in the lucrative global healthcare market, Samsung has announced a partnership with Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital designed to solidify its clinician cred.
 
This latest hospital collaboration will add to the company’s research into virtual reality as a powerful pain management tool, according to Chief Medical Officer and Head of Healthcare and Fitness at Samsung Electronics America Dr David Rhew.  
 
“We've spent a lot of time proving it and that's a perfect example of what we're doing here at St Vincent’s. Once you've got that proof then you've got the opportunity to combine the clinical perspective with the patients’ and create a program that is sustainable and highly effective,” Rhew told Healthcare IT News Australia.
 
The randomised clinical trial at St Vincent’s Hospital will see Samsung smartphones and Gear VR technology used to treat post-surgery patients.
 
“My belief is that it will in all likelihood demonstrate significant benefit,” Rhew said.
 
Such has been the benefit in US studies that patients have been able to avoid hospitalisation and medication.
 
“That is phenomenal, and we have seen many interesting cases. We've seen kids with sickle cell pain crisis come into the ER. It normally requires narcotics, usually IV, and they’re hospitalised. We've been able to not only prevent the hospitalisation but they’re sending them home with no narcotics.”
 
It is a revelation, he said, that simple tech can replace the complex medical devices of the past.
 
“These tools, these technologies, which are very consumer based technologies, these are not FDA certified devices or anything, that are being used to actually treat conditions much like a medicine would,” said Rhew, who was in Australia headlining the inaugural Samsung Health Smart Summit.
 
This isn’t the first use of VR at St Vincent’s Hospital, with stroke survivors able to use pioneering technology to watch what occurred in their own blood vessels as part of the process to engage them with rehabilitation.
 
The new partnership with Samsung will lead to the development of software that will be put to use in the hospital in early 2018 for orthopaedics and trauma patients following surgery.
 
“We hope we can show that they can decrease their reliance on dependent medications, get them up and moving earlier, and we hope that their outcomes will be better and their complications less,” said Associate Professor Stephen Faux, Director of Rehabilitation Medicine and Pain Medicine at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney.
 
He believes the use of VR could also lead to lower usage of patient-controlled analgesia.
 
“VR is used in chronic pain for distraction and anxiety management and we know that following surgery and in acute pain there's a lot of distress. And quite often you can't give anything for that,” Faux said.
 
“And if there was an alternative that was viable and instant then maybe they wouldn’t be pressing that button very much. So we’re hoping that’s the outcome.”
 
Improving healthcare outcomes isn’t simply a new business opportunity for Samsung, according to Rhew, with clinical credibility a point of difference for a company better known for its mobile devices. It takes the sector so seriously it has its own hospital in South Korea.
 
“In 1994 we established the Samsung Medical Centre. So we've been delivering care, we’re care providers,” he said.
 
“But that being said, that was really kind of the first step to really understand how one could use technology to deliver better care and it was pretty much focused on the technologies within a hospital. Where we're looking at today is how technologies can be used outside of the hospital.”
 
Samsung is joined in the race to harness the potential of digital healthcare by other tech giants including Amazon and Apple.
 
The cloud business arm of Amazon is on the verge of announcing the company’s entrance into the healthcare market through a rumoured partnership with electronic health record giant Cerner.
 
The deal will initially focus on Cerner’s HealtheIntent, a cloud-based, programmable, vendor-agnostic population health management tool that helps providers interpret clinical data more efficiently to enhance care.
 
The healthcare sector has been waiting for Amazon to make its move since it opened a secret lab at its Seattle headquarters in July. 
 
Meanwhile, the US edition of Healthcare IT News has reported on speculation from industry analysts about Apple’s plans for the market after the company secured patents suggesting it could be poised to enter the mobile healthcare monitoring device, EHR and healthcare data storage markets.
 
It follows earlier reports that Apple was working to put health records on the iPhone, where users could access their medical records, including lab results, medical tests and appointments.
 
For Samsung’s Rhew, the possibilities provided by personal technology – phones, wearables and home assistants – will lead to disruptive improvements for patient care.
 
The Samsung Health app is expanding its offerings in telehealth and virtual care, and the company is developing programs for the management of diseases such as diabetes and cardiac disease. But, he said, there’s much more tech innovation in the space to come.
 
“And that's the real exciting opportunity for us to think about: how we engage individuals outside of the hospital? Because what we do know is that when individuals are more engaged they actually have better health outcomes, they have lower readmissions, they have lower safety events, they are more confident about their care and all in all the quality of care and the cost of care is better,” Rhew said.
 
- with Bernie Monegain and Jessica Davis.