Executive Interview: A 360-Degree View of the Digital Health Frontier
Samsung’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. David C. Rhew, spoke at the 2018 Unite to Cure International Vatican Conference in the Vatican City about how new technology can transform health.
Samsung has a Chief Medical Officer to focus on the applications of technology to push healthcare into the future.
The U.S. Newsroom asked Dr. Rhew three questions upon his return from the conference about what he’s working on and the enormous possibilities for healing through technology.
Q: Welcome back! What was the most memorable part of your participation at the Unite to Cure conference in Vatican City this year?
Dr. Rhew: It’s hard to choose just one. The Unite to Cure event was graciously hosted by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture and the Cura Foundation. Attendees included leaders and experts from across the globe in science, technology, and religion with the goal of discussing, collaborating, and advancing the future of medicine to help alleviate suffering.
During the conference I discussed how virtual reality (VR), implantable devices, and emerging technologies are helping to improve the lives of those with disabilities due to illness, injury, and advanced age. The response I received from the attendees after my presentation was overwhelmingly positive. A typical response was, “Congratulations. I never knew that Samsung was doing so many important and inspiring things in healthcare.”
And, of course, meeting Pope Francis was a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
Q: How is Samsung innovating to develop solutions for today’s most pressing health issues?
Dr. Rhew: During my presentation, I discussed how technology is transforming the lives of patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers. It is dramatically improving the functional status of those with disabilities; helping to improve communication between patients, their caregivers, and doctors; and improving patient care and reducing costs.
The example I shared at the conference focused on VR in healthcare. When most people think of VR, they immediately think of gaming and entertainment. Some may even think of VR as a training tool. However, what I am talking about is using VR to actually treat medical conditions.
At Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, a large community-based hospital in Los Angeles, CA, researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the impact of VR on pain for patients hospitalized with a variety of medical and surgical conditions. The intervention group received a Samsung Gear VR headset preloaded with software developed by a company called AppliedVR, while the control group watched similar type of calming videos on a television.
The results showed that patients who used the VR application reported a 52% reduction in pain, with a trend towards lower narcotic use in those with a higher baseline level of pain. We are now actively working with several sites in the U.S. to apply VR as a non-narcotic alternative to help battle the opioid epidemic.
VR can also improve vision for people who have low vision due to macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, glaucoma, and other conditions. These people have a difficult time living independently, keeping a job, accessing information, etc. With the help of a specialized VR program, the goggles can help improve the vision abnormalities that people have in these instances, and help them see again.
In another example, VR can be used to help the paralyzed regain neurologic function. In one study, eight persons with chronic paraplegia (3-13 years) due to spinal cord injury engaged in long-term training with VR and an exoskeleton. At the end of one year, all eight patients had improved somatic sensation and voluntary motor control. Four of the eight (50%) were upgraded to incomplete paraplegia classification, and in follow-up all were upgraded. It’s remarkable, and incredibly heartening.
Video courtesy of AppliedVR which used Samsung Gear VR headsets when conducting a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the impact of VR on pain for hospitalized patients at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Q: You have a medical degree, a computer science degree and a passion for video games. In your role as Chief Medical Officer for Samsung, how are you applying your background to expand opportunities for consumers to see results from engaging with digital health applications?
Dr. Rhew: Yes indeed. In college, I double-majored in Cellular Molecular Biology (CMB) and computer science. I chose CMB because I had already taken several of the CMB courses since most of them were part of the pre-med curriculum. I chose computer science because I enjoyed it, and I wanted to make video games. My favorite was Donkey Kong. Love that Mario!
When I entered medical school, I never really thought my computer science background would provide much use. But over the years, healthcare has become much more technology-based and more recently, the push towards consumer/patient-centric care outside of the hospital has led to the emergence of digital health. Samsung is in the perfect situation to capitalize on these market trends, as it has consumer technologies that consumers and patients use every day in the home and on the go. I have been very excited and honored to help Samsung towards its mission of delivering transformative digital health solutions that improve the health and well-being for the healthy, sick, and aged to create a better world.
At the Unite to Cure event, I received external validation from leaders across the industry that Samsung is in fact doing what we had set out to do in health. We are helping to transform the lives of people with disabilities due to injury, illness, and advanced age.
However our work is not done. We have the vision to improve one billion lives by 2020. We intend to do this by leveraging the Samsung Health platform (with currently over 260 million users) and building consumer-friendly, healthcare-relevant services on the platform. Today, we have Ask An Expert, a program developed in partnership with telemedicine company American Well, in which consumers and patients can reach a physician anytime and anywhere. We also have the Diabetes Wellness Program, which is a coaching program based on the FDA-certified version from Welldoc that has been shown to be almost twice as effective in controlling blood sugars as compared with diabetes medications. Samsung also has the cardiac rehabilitation application which digitizes a 6-8 week cardiac rehabilitation program onto a Samsung Gear S3 smartwatch. Looking ahead, we will expand to other conditions and health and wellness programs, and who knows, maybe someday we will add video games on the platform to help address stress or simply to pass the time. And if we do, my vote is to consider adding Donkey Kong to our arsenal.
Dr. Rhew will be speaking on two panels, at the upcoming the HLTH Conference in Las Vegas, May 6th – 9th.