Doc in a Big, Blue Box

Curtis Franklin Jr., Executive Editor | 1/11/2013 | 38 comments

Curtis Franklin Jr.
A blue-and-white plastic box may be the key to long life and improved health for millions of underserved people. IT is making it possible.

The box, a phone-booth-sized kiosk called the HealthSpot Station, is designed for providers to offer basic diagnostic services and consultation with a licensed physician to individuals who might be many miles (and many more dollars) removed from any reasonable standard of healthcare. With a simple AC power connection and basic Internet access, the kiosk will enable patients to see and talk with a doctor via teleconference while the doctor receives the results of basic diagnostics.

Armed with the information, the doctor can issue prescriptions for drugs and treatment, or refer the patient for additional consultation with a specialist for cases that require more in-depth examination.

HealthSpot Station

According to the press release issued by HealthSpot at CES 2013 in Las Vegas, the instrumentation covers a number of areas:

    Inside the HealthSpot Station, a scale built into the floor records weight. With the push of a button, the doctor can unlock small cabinets that hold high-tech, digital medical devices that transmit information, audio, video and pictures back to them through a secured connectivity FDA Medical Device Data System. A removable cuff captures blood pressure. An instant-read thermometer is behind one door. A dermascope provides a magnified view of rashes and skin conditions, as well as the back of your throat or eye. If you have an earache, the doctor asks you to slip the otoscope into your ear as you both look at a high-resolution image of the inside of your ear on the screen in front of you. The stethoscope transmits heart, lung and bowel sounds digitally. The pulse oximeter is used to take the patient’s pulse and monitor oxygen saturation of the blood.

Stepping into the Healthspot Station, I was struck by how private it seemed (the door closes you off from the surrounding area, though there's enough room inside the station for a companion to join the patient). It looked as if it would be easy to sterilize all the kiosk's surfaces.

In an interview with E2, Rob Shelton, a spokesman for HealthSpot, said that any provider using the kiosk would have an attendant clean the inside of the unit after every patient visit. Pointing to a touchscreen in the unit, he said, "After each visit, a checklist comes up with a series of steps the attendant must take to prepare the kiosk for the next patient. That next patient session can't begin until all items on the checklist have been completed and recorded."

Providers would have each HealthSpot Station attended by a certified health professional, either a nurse or nursing assistant, depending on the situation. The attendant will make sure that certain preliminary steps are properly taken, can see to follow-up arrangements, and (in some locations) might be able to dispense medications or hand a prescription to the patient.

HealthSpot envisions HealthSpot Stations in locations such as shopping malls and retail stores, as well as in remote locations that are currently unserved (or underserved) by healthcare professionals. While this is one of the first companies to provide such a system for remote healthcare, it's unlikely it will be the last.

The concept brings with it a number of questions that a provider's healthcare IT team will need to address.

One of those questions is, of course, network connectivity to and from the kiosk. Looking at the instruments used in the diagnosis of the patient, it's obvious that they don't require huge data transfer rates. The video conferencing has higher data requirements, but, once again, absolute fidelity isn't the most important issue.

Patient privacy is, on the other hand, a truly important issue that HealthSpot is dealing with by making sure that data is flushed from local kiosk instruments after each patient leaves. Data link security will, of course, be huge, as will the ability to share the patient data with approved healthcare providers for followup.

HealthSpot was one of the more interesting things I saw at CES 2013. I suspect that we'll be seeing a great deal more of this sort of remote telematic medicine in the next handful of years. How do you think your IT group will handle the requirements? I'm interested in your thoughts -- from the IT executive perspective, and from the patient perspective.

Would you want to provide IT oversight for this type of technology? Would you go to this ultimate "Doc in a Box" for your own healthcare needs?

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
Page 1 / 4   >   >>
freespiritny25   Doc in a Big, Blue Box   3/23/2013 7:23:21 PM
Re: Wonderful
@Curtis: When exactly is this vision expected to roll out into practice?
Susan Nunziata   Doc in a Big, Blue Box   1/30/2013 7:15:21 PM
Re: (interesting...?)
@Curt: It's certainly the next step in chronic disease management, just as we have blood pressure machines in many pharmacies now. Diabetics, folks suffering high blood pressure, asthma patients and many others could benefit from a "doc in a box" that can help them perform regular monitoring tests in between in-person care visits or to alert them that it's time for a visit.
Taimoor Zubair   Doc in a Big, Blue Box   1/28/2013 4:27:28 PM
Wonderful. I think it's the ideal solution for improvement of healthcare in remote places. At least the most reasonable one i have come across so far. I would definitely go to this doctor in a box. I hope this system is introduced in a short time so that developing countries can also follow the example. Though it would be too costly to arrange a box such as this, it's stilll worth a shot. I am thinking of picking this issue up in the next youth conferece my suggestions are asked for.
Susan Nunziata   Doc in a Big, Blue Box   1/18/2013 2:13:18 PM
Re: Management
@Curt, @Salik: You're right, the ways this can help in providing healthcare to remote areas around the world really get the imagination going. Curt--did the folks behind this technology provide any information on how it could be used in areas where electricity and Internet connectivity might be less reliable than it is in the US? Any use cases yet? 
Salik   Doc in a Big, Blue Box   1/18/2013 5:20:05 AM
Re: Management
@Curtics, Susan  Thank you for clearing the idea about how the medications and prescriptions differ in case of the Blue Box. Definitely, I agree to the idea of the pharmacy being available much more easier than doctors' office. I am in love with the Blue box idea, and would love to see it flourish across the world rather than being a part of the US itself.
Susan Nunziata   Doc in a Big, Blue Box   1/18/2013 12:01:08 AM
Re: Management
@Salik: That's a great suggestion to have these kiosks available to help tourists or foreigners. If these are placed in pharmacies where the patient can communicate with a doctor who is offsite, then that doctor would theoretically be able to send the perscription request directly to the pharmacy and the patient would be able to pick up the necessary medications from the pharmacy counter. Long way before we get there, but your idea is a perfect use case.
CurtisFranklin   Doc in a Big, Blue Box   1/16/2013 11:20:11 PM
Re: (interesting...?)
@freespiritny, I think we're going to see many more tchnology-oriented solutions to the problem of unavailable healthcare. Oe of the big questions (and one that was asked earlier in this conversation) is whether insurance companies will pay for this. I suspect that, ultimately, they will because the cost can be so much less than a visist to a traditional doctor's office,
CurtisFranklin   Doc in a Big, Blue Box   1/16/2013 11:17:30 PM
Re: (interesting...?)
@angelfuego, I think you've identified the idea -- that this is the next step up in providing services at locations where patients will already be going. While I'd love for everyone to have the sort of small-town doc I grew up with, I think this is a steo in a very good direection.
CurtisFranklin   Doc in a Big, Blue Box   1/16/2013 11:15:22 PM
Re: (interesting...?)
@Damian, that's true, and remember that a nurse or nursing assistant eiol be there to help interpret the doctor's orders or provide additional assistancel It's not a totally automated system -- it uses technology to augment the limited availability of medical professionals in remote locations and for under-served populations.
CurtisFranklin   Doc in a Big, Blue Box   1/16/2013 11:11:50 PM
Re: Management
@Salik, I don't believe the units would dispense medications -- the patient would still have to go to a pharmacy for that. In the US, at least, pharmacies are much more common that doctors' offices, so getting the medications should be much easier than getting a prescription in the first place.
Page 1 / 4   >   >>

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