Now your hologram doctor will see you

A patient comes into a hospital room, sits down and starts talking to the doctor. But in this case, the doctor is a hologram.

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

In May, the hospital group began offering patients the ability to see their doctor remotely as a hologram through a partnership with Netherlands-based digital technology firm HoloConnects.

Each Holobox — that's the company's name for the device, which weighs 440 pounds, stands 7 feet tall and projects a highly realistic, 3-D live video of a person on a screen — costs $42,000, plus an additional annual service fee of $1,900.

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

This system allows the patient and doctor to have a telehealth visit in real time that feels like a face-to-face conversation. Currently, this service is mostly used for pre- and post-operative visits.

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

“Physicians are able to make a very different impact on patients,” said Raji Kumar, managing partner and chief executive of Crescent Regional. “Patients feel like the physician is right there.”

But experts are skeptical about whether hologram visits are better than 2-D telehealth options like Zoom or FaceTime.

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

“I’m not aware of any data supporting the idea that this will improve the quality of the visit beyond a typical telemedicine visit,” said Dr. Bressman, who specializes in digital medicine.

Ms Kumar said holograms enhance the telehealth experience as they have a large screen and a sophisticated camera, allowing the doctor to see the entire body of the patient, which is useful for assessing characteristics such as gait or range of motion.

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

Some of the benefits of holograms are less obvious but still greatly enhance the patient experience, said Steve Stirling, managing director of HoloConnects' North American division.

“We're not going to affect patient outcomes,” Mr. Sterling said. “But we're already affecting the sense of connection between doctors and patients.”

Although Mr. Sterling said Crescent Regional is the first hospital application for Holobox, hospitality services are making greater use of the technology.

Mr Stirling said 12 hotels already have Holobox and there are plans to install the system at 18 more locations.

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

Beyond concerns about the lack of improvements in quality and access to care, cost is also an issue.

For now, the $42,000 plus an annual fee of $1,900 is not a savings service. But Ms. Kumar said she is okay with it.

“It's not about revenue generation. It's more about patient quality, engagement and providing better service to the patient. Making them more comfortable,” he said.

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