AI vs VR

It is without a doubt that artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) are the two heavy weight contenders that are going to battle it out and demonstrate their brilliance to us over the coming years. With applications in almost every walk of life, both have the ability to positively (and negatively) disrupt almost every aspect of our lives.

Fifteen years ago, Steven Spielberg gave us the film A.I. Artificial Intelligence based on a screen play by Ian Watson and the short story Super-Toys Last All Summer Longby Brian Aldiss that was written nearly 50 years ago. I was in my early 20s at the time and remember clearly not really enjoying the film and, if I’m honest, feeling a little confused by the concept. Since then there have been numerous films and programmes that have explored this concept and today our brains are far more receptive to the idea that we will soon be living with AI in our everyday lives.

This year I was invited to a meeting on the use of AI in healthcare. I was extremely excited about being introduced to robots doing cool stuff, but I was disappointed to find that there were none. Instead, I was sat in a basement room surrounded by people with brains I suspected were bigger than my house looking at mathematical equations and simulations. I had more chance of keeping up with Mo Farah than I did any of these. However, despite not understanding mathematics behind the application, the application itself was clear and I quickly realised that AI meant much more than robots. 

I was blown away to find out that computers like ‘Watson’ are able to predict new diseases, and more importantly find possible new treatments, by actively searching for and reading text, and looking at images to establish patterns and trends with astonishing levels of certainty in a very short period of time.

VR was originally a semi-immersible digitally-simulated world that was enough to play tricks on our brain through the ocular pathway but defiantly not confusable with real life. I remember playing tennis on the Atari 2600 (one of the original games consoles of the early 1980s) and the players themselves were only just about identifiable. This is compared with the games consoles of today, such as Forza, which for all intents and purposes, are as real as they can get – sometimes they are so good you can be forgiven for thinking you are watching (or even controlling) a film. 


The point is, with the advent of VR devices like Oculus Rift and its total immersive experience, coupled with the ability to create digital images confusable with real life (and/or using real life footage itself), VR is showing signs of being an alternative reality. Mark Zuckerberg already has an avatar of himself which is is able to walk around his virtual home and make things happen in his physical home – for example turning on a light in his virtual home makes it happen in his real home. 

It is therefore totally feasible that with the right ‘connected’ machinery a surgeon could perform an operation on a real life patient but from a virtual operating theatre on the other side of the world, overcoming any physical/logistical barriers limiting access to medical experts.

Even in its current basic form VR is achieving astonishing results in the medical field. For example, according to Duke University North Carolina, a combination of motorised exoskeletons and VR could help paraplegics regain some control of paralysed limbs. In their study, paraplegic patients were able to move a soccer player avatar through a stadium in VR by imagining the movements in their own body. For me the bigger question here is not that of whether AI or VR is better, or which will have a bigger impact on our lives. Instead the question is what happens when AI meets VR? 


CX (customer experience)  is what makes or breaks a brand these days. But what is CX and how do you achieve great CX in healthcare?

Nowadays we have an expectation that a ‘product’ will come with a ‘wraparound’ service (CX). A wraparound service is something that makes a product work more efficiently and conducive to our modern time poor lives. Once we have experienced a product with a great wraparound service, it is very difficult for us to then go back to the old version, it’s like our eyes have been opened to a better more efficient and more palatable way of doing things. An example of this would be to consider a taxi service as the product, and then compare Uber versus a traditional minicab. Both offer an A-to-B service, but one has become a brand icon with millions of loyal customers. Can pharma learn from this and truly go beyond the pill, be patient-centric and add value?


With one tap of the Uber app you can see taxi availability in your current locality, see how long it will take for a car to reach you, choose the type of car you want for your journey (standard, executive, luxury, people carrier etc) and place your request, which all means that you can plan your journey in the most efficient manner. No looking up numbers, no phone calls, no waiting, no disruption. Just quick and simple with all the info you need. But it doesn’t end there, the car you have choosen then makes its way to your exact location, and the app visually tracks and reports the car’s location and ETA, so you can continue to enjoy your own space until the car arrives, meaning you can relax and get on with other aspects of your life.


When the driver arrives he/she knows who you are and where you are going which means you don’t have to worry about someone else pinching your ride. Once inside the car the driver knows that you are able to ‘rate’ them which helps ensure the experience is of a high standard. GPS and traffic positioning volume technology should mean you are being taken the fastest and most efficient route to your destination, again meaning you can relax and use the journey to address other aspects of your life.


You already know and have agreed the cost upfront so payment is completed via an automatic digital transaction which means you don’t have to sit in the back of the car watching the meter and counting out coins, or worse having to pull over at a cash machine. Instead you simply say goodbye at your destination and walk away.


We live in a connected social world, I can’t remember how I first heard about Uber but it definitely was not from an advert or piece of marketing. Nowadays when people like your CX they will promote your brand far and wide among other like-minded people hence my original statement in this article – CX = Brand.

Uber is still at its core just an A-to-B taxi service, but the wraparound service it offers means that the CX is far more efficient, conducive and complimentary to our modern lives. It allows us to seamlessly and smoothly get from A to B, but more importantly it allows us to get on with other aspects of our life by minimising the time, impact and disruption of planning, booking and executing a taxi journey, and this is why Uber is the success that it is.

There are more and more brands that are offering these great customer experiences - like Airbnb, Deliveroo etc all of which begin to complement each other, eg having just used your Uber app, you can use your Airbnb app while not giving your driver directions to book your weekend getaway, after which you can use your Deliveroo app to order your dinner for the moment you arrive home.

These brands disrupt traditional experience, and therefore we naturally form higher expectations, and as such we begin to reject products that don’t offer a great CX and seek out those that do.

The digital revolution will infiltrate and impact every industry and healthcare is no exception, after all healthcare professionals are no different to anyone else. In fact they are currently more time-poor and under-resourced than ever before. Healthcare professionals are expected to achieve more with less and as such deserve services that help them achieve this, that are conducive to their way of life and that actually improve outcomes.

We are currently in the eye of the digital storm! The healthcare professional digital space, like every other, is soon going to be awash with technologies that will improve efficiencies and provide an improved CX. The time is now to get on-board because once the eyes of the healthcare professionals has been opened, much like with the Uber example discussed earlier, there will be no going back. As such there are vast opportunities within this digital space and healthcare innovation hubs, including egg are constantly looking for these new solutions.

Pharma are all great taxis providing a great A-B service, but the one that becomes Uber will achieve unparalleled brand loyalty. Just consider the ‘Pre’, the ‘During’ and the ‘Completion’ experience of your key customers.


There are exceptional people in all walks of life, these people’s ability, drive and ambition baffles most of us, achieving things that seem impossible. As a result these individuals become people that we look up to, admire and even emanate. 

We all know that dedication and practice is obviously a major factor in becoming awesome (we’ve all heard the 10,000 hours rule) but there must also be a magic ingredient that makes these people different. The truth is, there is and best of all it is available to anyone who wants it. The crux is more around your choice of application. 

What do I mean? In order to be an expert you need to dedicate yourself, and dedication comes from one of two places, extreme will power and determination (the hard way) or extreme passion (the easy way). If you enjoy something enough, you will get better and better because you are choosing to expose yourself to the challenge as much as humanly possible within the limitation imposed on you, ie is this a hobby and therefore performed in your spare time, or is this your profession where you are constantly exposed?

Consider this, if you are a level two player, level one will bore you; yes you’re winning at this level but there is little reward, level three on the other hand will challenge and stretch you, it might even elude you until you develop the specific skills needed to elevate you to achieve this ambition. It’s this desire that creates the determination and focus required that gives you the ability to push through self-doubt and fear. When you are at the edge of your ability, stretched, but focused on achieving the desired goal with doubt silenced the brain releases various biochemicals that help you perform and reach that next level. A potent torrent that takes you on a ride and in that moment you are in the zone (or the correct scientific term you are in flow). Flow is a state where productivity is increased four-fold.

In two hours in flow, I can accomplish tremendous things! When you do reach flow, you get an extra two hours of great work done in a day and the other twelve are really, really productive.
— Sir Richard Branson

The flow state builds confidence and positively rewards the individual, assuming an individual is sufficiently motivated to achieve, but flow states are also contagious which means that individuals can become inspired and motivated by watching and interacting with someone in flow. In fact an individual experiencing solitary flow will find it nowhere near as enjoyable as group flow, a shared experience which as a result builds bonds, develops trust, confidence, momentum and innovation, amplifying each other’s ideas and actions.

If people come together with a serious focus, clear shared goals, the ability for good communication, ie plenty of feedback (something not often experienced in solitary enterprise) equal participation (people with similar skills and ambition) and familiarity, ie the group has a common language, a communication style that with unspoken understanding, meaning everyone is on the same page. It is in the state of group flow that when novel innovation arrives, momentum is not lost through lengthy explanation and great things can happen. 

Consider the Team GB cycling team, for the four years between Olympics this group of individuals work together to find that extra 1% that separates them from their competitors and it is probably not just down to the hours that they put in that makes this difference. It’s the biochemistry of the entire group of individuals that drives the group and finds achieve that 1% that otherwise eludes the rest.

The quest to find these perfect partnerships is one constantly sort after for obvious reasons, but because people often live miles apart or only occasionally dabble in an areas of interest makes finding equal participation much harder. The key is population density, ie if you can get 1,000 people interested in a particular subject in a room together, the chances of perfect partnerships and groups emerging significantly increases due to chance interactions. But the problem here is one of logistics even if you get the individuals together there then requires a huge commitment, possibly even lifestyle change for them to work together in flow. In the case of a successful and desirable company like Google, the opportunity to work for them and become part of that group is probably strong enough to make those life choices but if it is a small project group with a shared vision for the future that have work responsibilities and family ties that are more important the opportunity is lost when they walk out of the room.

However, the advent of PDNs (Professional Digital Networks) has meant that these interactions and perfect partnership opportunities are not lost in the professional setting. PDNs are capable of fulfilling the group flow requirement because they bring people together with a serious focus, clear shared goals, offer the ability for good communicationequal participation and familiarity through a common language in a convenient and conducive way to everyday life, overcoming logistical and geographical boundaries by embracing the digital advances.

Large corporations, the military and the world of sport are heavily investing in harnessing the power of group flow, but the impact can be felt on a much more local level by identifying the right group of people, identifying a clear common goal and providing them with a convenient platform so they can inspire each other, work together, collaborate together and achieve amazing things together.


One very noticeable change of the digital revolution has been our communication, an aspect of our lives that from the very beginning has consistently responded to every major discovery like fire, the wheel, steam power, electricity and the internet, each spawning significant innovative improvements in our ability to communicate further, faster, and with more people. Out of all of these discoveries it was the advent of electricity that saw the telephone propel us into a new world of both communication and commercial opportunity, closely followed by television, mobiles, email, SMS and now social media.

Each of these innovations have gone through a common cycle of events from their original carnation to subsequent iterations:

1. Innovation value

2. Innovation adoption

3. Innovation opportunity

4. Innovation immunity

5. Innovative change

The question is have we reached social media immunity and if so what’s next? In order to expolore this we need to appreciate the impact of the five steps on a previously revolutionary innovation.

First came innovation value. When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, he was only able at first to communicate with a guy in a different part of the post office where it was used, a one-to-one communication which had value to the post office but not to anyone else in the world at that point. However, once the demonstrated value of the innovation had spread, each additional telephone connected to the exchange incrementally increased the telephone’s value and eventually the majority of the world became connected via it. At this point all you needed was to know the number to dial and you could speak to anyone anywhere in the world, anytime (assuming they were there to pick up) which gave the telephone tremendous value.

Next came innovation excitement. For many years people would enjoy sitting by their telephones and waiting for someone to call, or would look forward to using their telephone to reach out to someone. Even within my own lifetime I can remember being sat at home as a child with my parents in the early 80s (some one hundred years after the telephone was invented), the phone would ring and one of them would say eagerly, “Ooh I wonder who that is? Are we expecting a call?”

Next is when the technology offers such a huge commercial innovation opportunity that it begins to erode the technology’s excitement as the commercial invasion disrupts users’ enjoyment. In the case of the telephone it was the onset of telemarketing and telesales. All that commercial organisations needed (in the early days) were a list of telephone numbers and that would then connect them directly into the homes or work places of potential customers. Telephone owners became hounded by unsolicited calls, people felt negative about the volume of unwanted interruptions, the level of personal invasion and angry about wasted time, the burden and discomfort of which resulted in telephone users exhibiting innovation immunity. And with that came innovative change – suddenly people had begun to screen their calls through the innovation of ‘caller ID’ and answerphones.

So have we reached this point with social media? Let’s consider the journey so far. The internet gave us our first taste of social media twelve years ago, the value was slow to establish at first. Then boom! The digital revolution saw social media connect the world in a way that has never previously made communicating so easy, so fast or capable of going so far. Something worthy can happen anywhere and more often than not the world will know about it faster than global news channels can report it. People could keep up with their friends’ lives, people could keep up with the details of celebrities’ lives, people could become world famous themselves with a single post, as such people fell addictively in love because social media is personal, authentic, intimate and very public.

But this has meant that it has demonstrated a tremendous commercial opportunity. Apparently nearly 60% of content on social media has now been artificially generated by organisations. Brands employ social media strategists and invest millions on social listening to better understand the lives of the consumer. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now employed to learn the behaviour and interests of potential customers through their connected online activity and with the help of permission-based marketing, is very cleverly deployed to engage these potential new customers. It was not so long ago I would hear people say, “It’s so weird, I was searching on line for X and the next time I went onto social media there was an advert for X….it’s so strange!”

But now we are getting wise to the techniques and capabilities and there are increasing whispers of people becoming disappointed with the direction of large social media platforms particularly in a professional capacity. Is this the first signs of social media immunity? If so, what’s next? What’s the next innovative change that will allow us privacy whilst being able to to communicate in an authentic way which adds value to our lives and the lives of others?

For me, in a professional capacity at least, it is the development of PDNs (Professional Digital Networks) which offer closed purpose-built networks for specific working groups to facilitate communication with a common goal. They are able to harness the power of social media technology and supercharge innovation, collaboration and best practice sharing. A PDN is a place to connect brilliance beyond geographical boundaries, a place for those more interested in self-development than selfies, a place where genius is shared, not just GIFs, a place where people come together for collaboration rather than cat videos.


By Chris Knight, Innovation Director


Virgo Health has marked the official launch of its healthcare innovation hub, egg, with its first two proprietary white-label products, PRODIGI and TRIAL360.

Egg’s mission is to create products that make a meaningful every day difference to patients, healthcare professionals and the pharmaceutical industry. Egg offers an innovation service to support organisations in solving problems and challenges through a unique process which achieves profound understanding from insight, looking at areas of unmet need through a different lens to create solutions that transform lives.

Ondine Whittington, Managing Director at Virgo Health said, “Over the last few years we have seen increasing expectation from those responsible for reimbursing and providing access to medicines for pharma to focus on not only providing effective medicines, but also on the holistic health of a patient to improve outcomesand lower costs. Egg, powered by the deep expertise and heritage of Virgo Health, can support industry to work out what services patients and healthcare professionals really need and want, and how the reimbursement process is evolving to support provision of such services.”

PRODIGI is white-label technology to create closed, purpose-built digital networks enabling organisations to facilitate improved collaborative working, best practice sharing, ongoing professional development and health education whilst learning from the insights captured.   

A PRODIGI network is used and endorsed by Imperial College Health Partners as part of Digital Health London, a digital hub to assist in the adoption of digital innovations to solve today’s challenges impacting the delivery of care in the UK.  They are using the technology to create a private online community of practitioners focused in the area of Atrial Fibrillation (AF) to facilitate better collaborative working, with the aim of better understanding how innovations and improvements can be more easily adopted throughout the AF pathway to improve the quality of life for patients and increase efficiency in health care delivery.

We are just at the start of our exciting journey with this technology, working to develop our platform to become the ‘go to’ place for our project community for focused discussions, innovative collaboration, expert opinion and cutting-edge resource.
— Shirlene Oh, Head of Industry, Imperial College Health Partners

Chris Knight, Egg Innovation Director at Virgo Health said, “The pharma industry has historically invested heavily in establishing and maintaining professional relationships but traditional face-to-face interactions have become increasingly challenging and fragmented, putting a significant brake on progress and innovation. What’s more, the digital landscape is shifting, people are increasingly looking for online networks that are focused and relevant to them not a ‘one size fits all’ approach, particularly in a professional setting.  Now is the time for private, closed, online networks where stakeholders can be engaged with content and peers in an environment they need and want. By licensing the PRODIGI software, pharma can now easily create tailored, closed professional networks for specific groups to seek unique insights and help drive innovation and engagement.”

TRIAL360 is a digital platform enabling maximum clinical trial efficiencies, without compromising standards. It has been developed to encompass all aspects of trial design and execution. It offers quality and convenient training, comprehensive resources, expert support and opportunities for collaborative networking for pharma, investigators and experts all in one place, as well as providing a separate forum for patients to find out more about a clinical trial and access supporting materials after recruitment. It has a proven track record in offering superior clinical trial success – better fulfilling the needs of investigators and patients to help run clinical trials effectively and efficiently.

Katherine Mantell, Head of Virgo Health’s medical education division said, “Increasing the effectiveness of learning and the efficiency of all professional participants, TRIAL360 enables you to build your very own online training platform so that face-to-face time can be better utilised. It offers a new degree of convenience and flexibility through bite-size on-demand sessions, ensuring better data accuracy and compliance across study sites globally. It can house personalised learning plans and bespoke training modules – from disease background and study protocols to safety reporting process and data management – which maximise visual and active content to promote knowledge retention.”