Tell me if this sounds familiar: You have a cough that’s lasted a bit too long, or a mole that just doesn’t look right. You should get it checked out, but you’d prefer not to spend half a day in a doctor’s office.
Design firm Teague conceptualized an enticing solution: a doctor in a box. You would buy this affordable kit at CVS or Walgreens, then take it home to experience a professional doctor visit teleconferenced into the privacy of your own bathroom.
The kit would contain two pieces: One piece is like a smart stethoscope, capable of hearing your heart or lungs, but also peeking into your ear with a fiber optic light and taking high-definition images on the surface of your skin. The second piece is a teleconferencing camera that sticks to your mirror. It can beam video of you to your doctor, but it can also track your body’s movement, heart rate, and temperature, just like a Microsoft Kinect. Plus, it project images onto you or your mirror, thanks to an integrated pico projector.
“We’re trying to put traditional general checkup tools in the hands of a patient,” says Matt Schoenholz, head of Teague’s experimental hardware lab, The Kitchen. The team’s working theory is that most doctors today are running around all day, room to room, just to perform a few rudimentary tests. The kit allows patients to run those tests at home, either when a doctor is present on a call to make sense of the information, or as a private, daily ritual that can gather trends over time to bring back to the doctor.
“During a physical, a doctor has a 15-minute snapshot of your two years. He has no idea of progression. He has a range,” Schoenholz says. “If you could look at this from a pattern perspective, it’s way more telling.”
Of course, big data doesn’t solve the simple problem that people can’t hold a stethoscope to the right spot on their chest without some level of assistance, so the camera unit would project guides on patients’ bodies, showing them where to test themselves.
“Rather than the doctor saying, ‘left a bit, up a bit,’ it puts a circle on the chest and turns green when you get it to the right spot,” explains Roger Jackson, creative director at Teague. Other functions on the probe, like the otoscope (you know, that thing the doctor sticks in your ear to check if you have an ear infection), have been designed to be bulky and soft to make sure that even children could use it without hurting themselves.
You may or may not be able to imagine telemedicine in your daily life. But Teague did brainstorm one killer use case for their portable kit: travel. “If you think about a family traveling to Europe for a couple weeks they don’t have to figure out, ‘What’s my health care coverage in Europe? What are the docs in my network?’” Schoenholz explains. “It’s, ‘Okay, cool, we still have a great relationship with our doctor back in the states.’”
As for its feasibility, that’s maybe the most intriguing part of Teague’s concept: The designers think that they could actually create it, not in five or 10 years, but in the immediate future.
“We could actually build something like this,” Schoenholz says. “It’s something that, if we see some interest, we could set up a prototype that’s functional, and work with schools [to test it]…there’s no technology in here that doesn’t exist today.”
So I guess that just leaves the question, are you interested?