Remote Digital Clinics

Reading the annual lists of Innovations and Inventions is always a good source of inspiration and PopSci’s 2011 Invention Awards sparked a medical innovation idea.  Leveraging two of the 2011 inventions along with existing innovations and an episode of House for inspiration, I came up with an idea in the advancement of Telemedicine:

Imagine a network of remote clinics where patients interact with medical professionals via webcams and a suite of self service or remotely controlled devices.

2011 Inventions

  • Medical Mirror – A MIT grad student transforms a simple webcam into a heart rate monitor and displays the information on a mirror.  Future advancements could measure other vitals including respiratory rate and blood-oxygen saturation.
  • Antenatal Screening Kit – Draw a line with their innovative pen onto filter paper to test urine for disease.  This screening method cost a third of a cent per use, a fraction of the 50 cent dipstick alternative and the test is easy enough to be used and interpreted by anyone.

Existing Innovations

  • Telemedicine use of telecommunication and IT in order to provide clinical health care at a distance
  • Wireless Health Care – An emerging suite of wireless devices and trail programs with the Dept of Veterans Affairs video-conferences with chronically ill veterans.
  • American Well a leading telehealth company delivers state-of-the-art Web solutions.
  • Technology advancements allow you to remotely unlock your car via OnStar, or turn on the lights, climate control, and security systems in your home with ADT.
  • CVS’ Minute Clinic nurse practitioners and physician assistants are trained to diagnose and treat common illnesses, minor injuries, health screenings, vaccinations and physicals.
  • A growing number of Mobile Clinics via bus or trailers provide healthcare to low income neighborhoods reducing the burden and costs of Emergency Room visits.
  • $300 House a popular reverse innovation challenge from Vijay Govindarajan and Christian Sarkar to develop affordable housing.  It was first described in a Harvard Business Review blog post and has attracted countless advisers and businesses.
  • WebMD’s Symptom Checker provides self service advice for hundreds of symptoms.
  • Early adoption of online care by many healhcare companies
  • Tricorder X-Prize will award $10 million to the team that develops a mobile solution that can inexpensively diagnose patients by combining expert systems and medical point-of-care data—such as lab-on-a-chip or wireless sensors, provide a recommended course of treatment, and upload all relevant data to the cloud.  See also PopSci article.

TV Inspiration

  • A 2008 episode of House titled Frozen has Dr. House diagnosing an ill woman in Antarctica via a webcam.  He treats her using the supplies available at the remote site and using extreme measures typical of a House drama.

Integrate all these innovations and what can be accomplished?

A patient in a remote location visits a small clinic in a trailer or small building.  They step up to a kiosk with WebMD like decision support software to provide an initial triage and capture patient information.  Simple medical supplies and Over the Counter medicines could be purchased via an online pharmacy and express shipped to their location.

Those warranting a consult from a medical professional could have their vitals captured via the Medical Mirror, blood pressure monitor found in most pharmacies (when accurate) or leading home devices, a temporal thermometer, and other self service devices and the results uploaded to a secure network.

The patient would then sit in front of a webcam and communicate via Skype with a medical professional (Physician Assistants, Nurse Practitioners, RNs, Doctors, etc) from the global network.  Much like today’s office visits, you initially meet with a nurse practitioner, then elevated to a doctor, or specialist when necessary.  The network of staff could be anywhere in the country or world with requisite language proficiency.

Advancements in electronic health records would allow patients to visit a remote clinic and securely access and share their medical history with the remote clinic staff.  The room could have either a large vending machine type system or dozens of small locked draws that are remotely unlocked to dispense medical supplies and testing kits.  If required, patients could collect blood (limited drops vice large quantities) and urine samples and mail them to a lab for testing.  If the remote clinic was manned by a staff member, they could assist with checking vitals, collecting samples, and providing medical supplies or OTC medicine.

A network of medical professionals could be established (or leverage existing networks like Doctors Without Borders) that after some training and certification in the remote clinic system could contribute when available.  Some hospitals could encourage or require staffs to participate to provide additional experience to new personnel or achieve hospital philanthropic goals.  The network could establish a payment system for staff who participate – those who want to work a few extra hours for additional income, or support the network as full time employment.

This network of remote clinics have a variety of potential markets:

  • Remote locations across the US with limited health care facilities
  • Low income neighborhoods
  • Military personnel deployed to remote locations overseas
  • Poverty stricken nations

A remote clinic network could serve as a platform for continued medical innovations to provide self-service, preventative care, and other advancements in the industry.  Developing a reverse innovation platform similar to the $300 House would launch significant advancements.

Disclaimer: I have zero experience in the medical industry and merely offer this idea up for someone to explore.  I realize there are already related systems and components established.  I hope this spurs some innovative ideas, and in true crowdsourcing style, please add additional ideas and feedback via the comment section to this post.


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