01.07.24

Your Hologram Doctor Will See You Now

A Texas hospital is using holograms for doctor visits, aiming to enhance telehealth experiences.

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A Texas hospital is experimenting with hologram technology for doctors to see patients. Some health care experts wonder if it’s beneficial.

A woman in a dark suit and skirt standing in a box illuminated in white.
Raji Kumar, the managing partner and chief executive of Crescent Regional Hospital in Lancaster, Texas, in a Holobox.

June 29, 2024

A patient enters a hospital room, sits down, and starts conversing with a doctor. However, in this scenario, the doctor is a hologram.

Though it may sound like science fiction, this is the reality for some patients at Crescent Regional Hospital in Lancaster, Texas.

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

Each Holobox — the company’s name for its 440-pound, 7-foot-tall device that displays a highly realistic, 3-D live video of a person on a screen — costs $42,000, with an additional annual service fee of $1,900.

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

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

Crescent Regional’s executives, who plan to expand the service to traditional appointments, believe it enhances the remote experience for patients.

“The physicians are able to have a much different impact on the patient,” said Raji Kumar, the managing partner and chief executive of Crescent Regional. “The patients feel like the physician is right there.”

A seven-foot-tall box with white trim and a reflective black screen.
A Holobox is 440 pounds and projects on a screen a highly realistic, 3-D live video of a person.

Experts remain unconvinced about the benefits of a hologram visit over 2-D telehealth options like Zoom or FaceTime.

In the medical field, technological advancements are evaluated based on their ability to improve access to care, reduce costs, or enhance quality, said Dr. Eric Bressman, an assistant 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 beyond a usual telemedicine visit,” said Dr. Bressman, who specializes in digital medicine.

Ms. Kumar noted that a hologram enhances the telehealth experience with its large screen and advanced camera, allowing a doctor to see the patient’s full body, which is useful for assessing characteristics like gait or range of motion.

This feature could be particularly beneficial in a physical therapy context, said Dr. Chad Ellimoottil, the medical director of virtual care for the University of Michigan Health System.

Some benefits of the hologram are less measurable but still significantly enhance the patient’s experience, said Steve Sterling, managing director of the North American division of Holoconnects.

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

A white-haired man wearing a suit jacket and tie sitting inside an illuminated box.
The image of a doctor as it appears in a Holobox.
A man leaning forward in his seat. He is sitting before a pair of screens.
A large screen and sophisticated camera allows a doctor to see a patient’s full body remotely.

While Mr. Sterling said Crescent Regional is the first hospital application for the Holobox, hospitality services are more commonly using the technology.

According to Mr. Sterling, twelve hotels currently have a Holobox, with plans to install the system in 18 more locations.

Dr. Ellimoottil believes this technology is more suitable for hospitality settings than medical ones. While telehealth allows patients to consult a doctor from home, using the Holobox system would still require patients to travel to an office.

Besides concerns about the lack of improvement in the quality and accessibility of care, cost is also a significant issue.

Currently, at $42,000 plus a $1,900 annual fee, it is not a cost-saving service. However, Ms. Kumar is okay with that.

“It is not a revenue-generation thing,” she said. “It’s more of patient quality, engagement and delivering a better service to the patient. Giving them more comfort.”

Hank Sanders

Original text by Hank Sanders for The New York Times

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