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 as 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 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 sensation that a doctor is sitting inside the box, when in reality the doctor is miles away looking into the cameras and displays showing 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 executives, who plan to extend the service to traditional appointments, believe this improves the remote experience for the patient.

“Physicians are able to have a very different impact on the patient,” said Raji Kumar, managing partner and CEO 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, decrease its cost, or improve its quality, said Dr. Eric Bressman, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I know of no data to support the idea that this would improve the quality of the visit compared to a regular telemedicine visit,” Dr. said. Bressman, expert in digital medicine.

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

The camera could be especially useful in a physical therapy setting, said Dr. Chad Ellimoottil, medical director of virtual care for 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, 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 Sterling said Crescent Regional is the first hospital application for Holobox, hospitality services most commonly use the technology.

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

The Dr. Ellimoottil believes that this technology is better suited to a hotel context than a medical one. Telemedicine allows patients to meet with 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 revenue generation,” he said. “It's more about patient quality, engagement and providing better service to the patient. Giving them more comfort.”

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