Your Hologram Doctor Will See You Now

A patient walks into a hospital room, sits down, and begins talking to a doctor. Only in this case the doctor is a hologram.

It may sound like science fiction, but it’s reality for some patients at Crescent Regional Hospital in Lancaster, Texas.

In May, the hospital group began offering patients the ability to consult their doctor remotely in hologram form through a partnership with Holoconnects, a digital technology company based in the Netherlands.

Each Holobox — the company’s name for its 440-pound, 7-foot-tall device that displays a lifelike 3D live video of a person on a screen — costs $42,000, with an additional $1,900 annual service fee.

The high-quality image makes the patient feel like a doctor is sitting inside the box, when in reality the doctor is miles away looking at cameras and screens showing the patient.

The system allows the patient and doctor to have a real-time telehealth visit that feels more like an in-person conversation. For now, the service is mainly used for pre- and post-operative visits.

Crescent Regional executives, who are considering expanding the service to traditional appointments, say it improves the remote experience for the patient.

“Physicians can have a very different impact on the patient,” said Raji Kumar, managing partner and CEO of Crescent Regional. “Patients have the impression that the doctor is there. »

But experts are skeptical about whether a holographic visit is significantly better than 2D telehealth options like Zoom or FaceTime.

In medicine, technological advances are judged by their ability to improve access to care, lower its cost or improve its quality, said Dr. Eric Bressman, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I don’t know of any data to support the idea that this improves the quality of the visit beyond a typical telemedicine visit,” said Dr. Bressman, who has expertise in digital medicine.

MS. Kumar said one of the ways a hologram enhances the telehealth experience is the large screen and sophisticated camera that allows the doctor to see the patient’s entire body, which is useful for judging characteristics such as gait or range of movement.

The camera could be particularly useful in a physical therapy setting, said Dr. Chad Ellimoottil, medical director of virtual care at the University of Michigan Health System.

Some of the hologram’s benefits are less tangible but still significantly improve the patient experience, said Steve Sterling, general manager of Holoconnects’ North American division.

“We’re not going to impact patient outcomes,” Sterling said. “But what we’re already impacting is a sense of engagement between physicians and patients.”

While Mr Sterling said Crescent Regional is the first hospital application for Holobox, with hospitality services more commonly used using the technology.

Twelve hotels have a Holobox and there are plans to install the system at 18 more locations, Sterling said.

Dr. Ellimoottil believes that this technology is better suited to a hotel environment than a medical environment. Telehealth allows patients to meet with a doctor from home, but patients using the Holobox system would still have to visit an office.

Besides concerns about the lack of improvement in the quality and accessibility of care, price is also an issue.

Right now, $42,000 plus a $1,900 annual fee doesn’t constitute a cost-saving service. But Kumar said she’s OK with that.

“It’s not about revenue generation,” she said. “It’s more about the quality of patients, their engagement and providing better service to the patient. Giving them more comfort.”

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