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The doctor and staff are remotely controlled – literally

Crises drive health innovation. The presumed potential and much-publicized looming shortage of doctors is worrisome – or at least their lopsided geographic distribution is a concern. Or there are not enough medical schools to train new doctors. Or doctors are tired of being doctors.  Or is it the problem of keeping down the cost of actually seeing a doctor or a nurse practitioner? Is it that population health risks drive the need for improved chronic disease management?  Is it that there are or may soon be so many new patients? Or is the problem one of wasting the time of so many human staff in a hospital doing back-breaking and/or mundane tasks?

The result is an investment, somewhere, somehow, in technology. These phenomena are widely perceived as problems – discussed in the media (which means they were preceded by an interview, a press conference or a press release). They are then rationalized into becoming technology investment and when you search for technology innovation health 2015, prepare to be overwhelmed with summits, competitions, and accelerators. And as with so many other technology innovations, eventually these healthcare tech changes are introduced; then they are expected; and finally they are required – and so they become widely deployed. Consider three innovations that may be on the way to being standards of care:


  • The kiosk: Florida Blue’s HealthSpot. The tech enabled kiosk has come a long way from the pharmacy kiosks that sprang up everywhere a few years ago for use while waiting for your prescription to be filled.  “At Florida Blue’s storefront across from a mall, a white and blue pod called HealthSpot waits to serve clients with minor medical issues. Patients can enter the 8-foot-by-7-foot pod and video chat with a local doctor. The doctor can release one or more of the six hatches next to the screen, revealing devices like a stethoscope or a blood pressure cuff that a medical attendant (?) will then use to check the patient.” The service costs $49 and is only available to Florida Blue customers.

  • The app: FirstDerm, your online dermatologist.  “Anyone with an internet connection and a camera can use our service! With a web portal and iPhone app, First Derm acts as your mobile online dermatologist. We have had over 5,000 cases submitted from all over the world from countries such as Sweden, Chile, China, Australia, and Ghana. Our youngest users have been 3 days old and the oldest at 93 years old. Our dermatologists have seen hundreds of different skin conditions, from eczema to malignant melanomas. We are ready to give anyone the advice they need about their skin. From over 5000 reviewed cases, about 70% can self-treat with an over-the-counter remedy. 30% are advised to see a dermatologist or their family doctor for further tests, diagnosis, and treatment.” And you can even use Bitcoin to pay! Learn more at FirstDerm.

  • The robot: UCSF and the 25 Eve Robots. Robots have barely begun to migrate into everyday life in the home, but they are being deployed every else, including pharmacies and hospitals. Roaming robots announced in February at a new California hospital: Eve is one of 25 autonomous robots programmed to help the staff of San Francisco's newest hospital, Eve and its comrades will be cruising the corridors to bring supplies to and from the pharmacy, kitchen, lab and stock rooms. Although nearly 160 other hospitals employ robots like Eve, UCSF has the world's biggest fleet. That size fits the scale of the new Medical Center: an 800,000-square-foot, 289-bed facility spanning the equivalent of nearly three football fields.”

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