What's the Latest Development?

Elizabeth is a virtual nurse developed to help patients with the transition to and from the hospital. And while patients are at first skeptical about receiving care from a computer-generated personality, researchers have found that interacting with Elizabeth has a positive effect on patient care: "A month after discharge, people who interacted with the virtual nurse were more likely to know their diagnosis and to make a follow-up appointment with their primary-care doctor."

What's the Big Idea?

Besides improving the quality of patient care, virtual nurses could help reduce healthcare costs by filling in for live nurses when it comes to at-home or follow-up care. "We already know we don't have enough health-care providers to go around, and it's only getting worse," says physician Joseph Kvedar. "About 60 percent of the cost of delivering health care comes from human resources, so even if you can train more people, it's not an ideal way to improve costs." It also goes to show that even high-skilled jobs are being increasingly mechanized.