Your holographic doctor will visit you now

A patient walks into a hospital room, sits down, and starts 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 via a hologram 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 highly realistic live 3D video of a person on a screen, costs $42,000, with an additional $1,900 annual service fee.

The high quality of the images gives the patient the feeling that there is a doctor inside the box, when in reality the doctor is miles away and looking through the cameras and displays that show the patient.

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

Crescent Regional officials, who plan to expand the service to in-person appointments, believe this will improve the remote patient experience.

“Physicians have the ability to have a very different impact on the patient,” said Raji Kumar, managing partner and chief executive officer of Crescent Regional. “Patients feel like the doctor is right there.”

But experts are skeptical that a holographic visit is significantly better than 2D telemedicine options like Zoom or FaceTime.

In medicine, technological advances are judged by their ability to improve access to care, reduce costs, or improve quality, said Dr. Eric Bressman, associate professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I don’t know of any data to support the idea that this would improve the quality of the visit compared to a typical telemedicine visit,” said Dr. Bressman, an expert in digital medicine.

Dr. Kumar said one way a hologram enhances the telemedicine experience is because the large screen and sophisticated camera allow the doctor to see the patient's entire body, which is helpful in assessing characteristics such as gait or range of motion.

The camera could be especially useful in physical therapy settings, 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 they still significantly improve the patient experience, said Steve Sterling, managing director of Holoconnects' North American division.

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

While Mr. Sterling said Crescent Regional is the first hospital application of the Holobox, it is hospitality services that are most commonly using the technology.

Twelve hotels are equipped with Holoboxes, and there are plans to install the system in 18 more locations, Sterling said.

Dr. Ellimoottil believes this technology is better suited to a hospitality setting than a medical one. Telemedicine allows patients to see a doctor from home, but patients using the Holobox system would still have to go to an office.

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

For now, $42,000 plus a $1,900 annual fee isn’t a money-saving service. But Ms. Kumar said she agrees.

“It's not about generating revenue,” he said. “It's more about patient quality, engagement, and providing better service to the patient. Giving them more comfort.”

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