How Microsoft Kinect can improve care for your patients

An exciting technology is crossing over into the mHealth arena, and we're betting it could be a game-changer--Microsoft's hands-free interactive game console, Kinect.

The reason: Last week, Microsoft released its software development kit (SDK) for the game system, allowing developers to build apps, software, and other connected tools for it. Industry experts say the possibilities are both exciting, and practically endless.

Healthcare practitioners already have found uses for the system without any add-ons, as surgeons at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto use Kinect to move onscreen x-rays and other images without touching them.

And Microsoft just demoed a healthcare application for its soon-to-be-released virtual conferencing technology Avatar Kinect. The system will allow mental health patients to participate in group therapy and other counseling via an anonymous but human-like image onscreen, Microsoft's research and strategy chief Craig Mundie said at last week's Pacific Health Summit in Seattle. The new program captures facial expressions and body movement of participants, allowing counselors to evaluate their behavior while still protecting the patient's identity, according to a report at GeekWire.

With the advent of the SDK--and the expected explosion of add-on development--industry watchers are projecting what's next. One example: Aging In Place Technology Watch blogger Laurie Orlov sees big possibilities in the home patient monitoring market.

Healthcare providers need to see beyond the game console itself, to its possibilities as a "user interface" that can be adapted easily for remote patient monitoring and telehealth, in particular. It practically "begs to be applied to caregiving, family communication, and home health applications. Think about replacing expensive home monitoring sensor systems with apps that know you're home when you turn on the TV, that enable you to connect to your family members with the wave of a hand--that smooth the launch of a Skype session [that's Microsoft's too!]...that's taking the long view," she posted last week.

For hospital CIOs, all this pending development should put Kinect system connectivity high on your functionality list when you're considering new remote monitoring, mobile and telehealth technologies. You'll want to be able to take advantage of these ubiquitous devices in patient homes--more than 10 million have been sold since last fall--as they become more sophisticated, and possibly more central, to healthcare provided outside hospital walls. - Sara