Disney MagicBands allow visitors to walk around Disney World and simply wave their hand to pay for meals, skip through lines, and unlock their hotel rooms. They also allow Disney to track customers throughout its parks, scoring valuable data.
Mark Rolston, who was chief creative officer at Frog when the design firm developed Disney’s MagicBands, wondered, what if the technology were placed into a medical setting? His new firm argodesign conceptualized a Disney MagicBand for hospitals. "Rather than designing a whole new wristband, I thought it’d be more interesting to say, this is based on the Disney MagicBand," Rolston explains. And so that is quite literally what you see, a reskinned MagicBand that could make hospitals, maybe not as fun as theme parks, but a lot less horrible.
Inexpensive to produce, a MagicBand could be given to patients to replace the ID bracelets they’re given currently (doctors could get them, too). Two radios live in each band. The first is a short range RFID signal, which would allow patients to hold up their wrist to open doors or check into new areas, like blood labs. And it would allow any nurse provider to pull up someone’s medical records instantly.
"Right now, the number of staff used to move people around is high. As we move into the future, trying to reduce costs, you might imagine a hospital being much more like a mall, with a greater deal of self-service," Rolston explains. "More than anything, it facilitates this frictionless sensibility of moving through [the hospital]...someone heads down to radiology, gets scanned, and they don’t have to check back in. When they’re done, maybe a kiosk or smartphone says, this is the next place you need to go."
The second radio is a longer range radio, akin to Bluetooth, that would allow the hospital to track the positions of patients and doctors throughout the buildings in real time. It’d be a level of data—a living map of health care—that hospitals have never really had before. That data could allow the staff to track down a trauma surgeon instantly, and over time, such data might reveal ways the hospital experience could be streamlined to benefit patients and doctors alike.
"The notion of drive-thru health care is used as a derogatory term, but you actually want to inspire the drive-thru nature of health care!" Rolston says. "It’s the boring shit, where you're constantly filling out forms—if we can pull that out, maybe there’s some time and money freed up so more focus can be given to actual care."
Like at Disney, privacy issues come to mind. Patients might wonder, who on staff sees my medical records, and when? Nurses and doctors might balk at their employer tracking their movements all day at work (who wouldn't)? And then there's the biggest catch: Sooner or later, someone is going to end up with the wrong band, and a hospital run largely by automation could ferry someone to the wrong treatment with fewer human checks and balances in place.
Then again, if there's one place where you actually want Big Brother watching you, it's the hospital—especially if you get into additional sensors and capabilities you could add to the platform. Rolston pointed to all sorts of upgrades they could give the MagicBands system for a hospital context: Patients could have vitals, like heartbeat, tracked by the bands. Doctors could use them as pagers. And band hubs—what are basically Wi-Fi routers for MagicBands—could be fitted with motion tracking, infrared cameras capable of reading the body language and temperature of patients as they sat in a waiting room, triaging via algorithms in case the nursing staff missed something.
The real value in an idea like "MagicBands for hospitals" is its relatively turnkey potential, and Rolston is the first to recognize that. "I don't feel original in this concept, but that we’re illustrating what will probably happen," Rolston says. "This technology has been here. Let’s use it."