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 see their doctor remotely as a hologram, through a partnership with Holoconnects, a digital technology company based in the Netherlands.

Each Holobox (the company’s name for the 450-pound, 7-foot-tall device that displays a highly realistic 3D live video of a person on a screen) costs $42,000, with an additional $1,900 annual service fee.

The high-quality image gives the patient the feeling that there is a doctor in the box, while in reality the doctor is miles away, looking into cameras and displays showing the patient.

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

Crescent Regional executives, who plan to expand the service to traditional appointments, believe this will improve the remote experience for the patient.

“The physicians can have a very different impact on the patient,” says Raji Kumar, managing partner and CEO of Crescent Regional. “The patients feel like the physician is there.”

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

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

“I don’t know of any data that supports the idea that this would improve the quality of the visit over a regular telemedicine visit,” said Dr. Bressman, who has expertise in digital medicine.

Ms Kumar said one of the ways a hologram improves the telehealth experience is its large screen and advanced camera that allows a doctor to see the patient’s entire body, which is useful for assessing characteristics such as gait or range of motion.

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

According to Steve Sterling, president of Holoconnects’ North American division, some of the hologram’s benefits are less tangible, but they still significantly improve the patient experience.

“We are not going to impact patient outcomes,” Mr. Sterling said. “But what we already have an influence on is a sense of involvement between doctors and patients.”

According to Sterling, Crescent Regional is the first hospital application for the Holobox, but hospitality companies are increasingly using the technology.

Twelve hotels have a Holobox and there are plans to install the system in a further 18 locations, Mr Sterling said.

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

In addition to concerns about a lack of improvement in the quality and accessibility of care, price is also a problem.

For now, $42,000 plus an annual fee of $1,900 is not a cost-saving service. But Ms. Kumar said she is OK with that.

“It’s not a matter of generating revenue,” she said. “It’s more about patient quality, engagement and providing better service to the patient. Providing them with more comfort.”

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