Eight ways the Microsoft Kinect will change healthcare

By Jonah Comstock
05:00 am

Kinect_Report_cover_260We never really know where the next game-changing innovation will come from. The smartphone started out as just that -- a smarter phone. But when Apple opened up its API to developers, that open source project started to unlock the true potential of a handheld, connected touchscreen computer. Nowadays, the ability to make a phone call might just be the least important thing your smartphone does for you.

In the next few years, we might be saying something similar about the Microsoft Kinect, which has a similarly open software development kit. What began as a video game controller is rapidly becoming much more, as developers turn the power of computerized gesture recognition onto a bevy of healthcare uses.

Today, MobiHealthNews launches "Kinect the Docs: How Microsoft's video game technology is changing healthcare," a 30-page report on the impact of the technology on the healthcare space. In it, we discuss eight different ways people are already looking into using the Kinect to help people lead healthier lives. Here they are in brief. To get the full report, check out MobiHealthNews's research store.

1. Fitness and Exergaming

The hands-free, full body control scheme of the Kinect makes it ideal for creating video games that get people active and moving. In addition, the Kinect's camera can watch you move and record your movements, so it can give feedback on how much you're moving or whether you're doing a particular exercise correctly. The gamification possibilities for that kind of instant feedback are extensive, and research work by groups like the Mayo Clinic has shown that exergaming works for seniors as well as younger people.

2. Physical Therapy

The same feedback functionality makes the Kinect an ideal tool for at-home and in-clinic physical therapy. MobiHealthNews wrote about seven startups working in Kinect-based physical therapy in May, including West Health spin-off Reflexion Health and former game developer Respondesign. Many of those startups are now in clinical trials or even launched and working with patients.

3. Surgery Support

One of the very first healthcare use cases attempted even before Microsoft opened up the Kinect SDK was to allow surgeons to access medical imagery like X-rays without scrubbing out or having to work through an assistant. With gesture-based controls, surgeons can not only interact with static medical imagery onscreen, but can even refer to a live-feed from a flouroscopy camera. A Canadian company called GestSure is already deploying the technology in a handful of hospitals.

4. Autism Screening and Therapy

MobiHealthNews recently wrote about a project in development from Kaiser Permanente, using a Kinect game to screen young children for autism spectrum disorders. A study at the University of Minnesota also used Kinect sensors, deployed passively in a nursery, to scope out telltale signs of the condition. And autism centers like the Lakeside Center for Autism in Issaquah, Washington have found the technology just as useful for working with children who are already diagnosed.

5. Virtual Visits and Virtual Nurses

Sense.ly is using the Kinect as an advanced video camera for virtual consultations. The company hopes to reduce the resources hospitals need to commit to following up with chronic disease patients, while still reducing readmissions. The key to that cost saving is a virtual nurse, an avatar that uses Kinect gesture recognition and Nuance voice recognition to communicate with patients just like a human doctor.

6. Virtual Group Therapy

Group therapy can be helpful in the treatment of conditions like alcoholism and PTSD, but people sometimes have a hard time opening themselves up even to strangers. Using the Kinect, groups of patients could meet up virtually and truly anonymously, represented by avatars who would share their voice and body language but without an identifiable face. This technology hasn't really been realized, but both Microsoft itself and the Pentagon have expressed interest in it.

7. Aging in Place and Fall Prevention

Could a passive Kinect sensor in an elderly person's home analyze their gait and deliver an early warning about an increase risk of falling? That's what one startup, Atlas5D is trying to find out. So is a team at the University of Missouri, with backing from the NIH and the NSF. Fall prevention is one of the most elusive goals in mobile health, but the Kinect has shown some promise in tackling it.

8. Helping the Blind to Navigate and the Deaf to Communicate

Researchers have demonstrated the potential of the Kinect to both guide a blind person through a building, and to translate from sign language to text and speech in near-real time. One uses the camera's ability to detect 3D objects while the other uses the software's ability to track human hand movements. Both are far from commercialization, but they demonstrate the extraordinary potential of the technology.

Head over to the MobiHealthNews research store to pick up your copy of "Kinect the Docs: How Microsoft's video game technology is changing healthcare."


The latest news in digital health delivered daily to your inbox.

Thank you for subscribing!
Error! Something went wrong!