Even those of us fortunate enough to have good health insurance will often put off seeing a doctor when we probably should. Often it’s simply a matter of logistics. We feel like we can’t take the time off work, or arrange transportation, or get childcare to make the trip.
But what if the doctor just comes you? In a self-driving car.
That’s the idea behind Aim, a new concept by the Seattle based design firm Artefact. Aim is a new concept for health care, built from the ground up–one in which you wouldn’t have to worry whether or not your insurance covers an MRI or you could instantly glean whether that expensive, out-of-pocket drug will really alleviate your chronic back pain. “Aim is about creating an environment or a system where more positive health outcomes can occur,” says Matthew Jordan, executive creative director at Artefact. “More engagement with patients, technology with clinicians, and transparency from a standpoint of economic value.”
Aim imagines a near future in which health care is not a destination–a visit to the hospital–but a continuum of care. It starts in your bathroom, with a smart mirror, toothbrush, and toilet that can keep track of your vitals, like a more advanced Fitbit. If there’s a problem, the next step is an autonomous doctor car, dispatched to your home or place of work, that self-directs you to take more tests. And only if it’s medically necessary will you need to see a doctor. A doctor, who, incidentally, will have an AI assistant who has scanned what may be years of your diagnostic trend lines, compared to those of your peers, to pre-suggest diagnoses and treatments.
To anyone following the evolving health care sector, a lot of these ideas will feel familiar. It’s long been postulated that wearables, collecting our data, could help doctors see trends otherwise lost in the single data point they might see about you, during a visit, in a given year–if only our doctors weren’t already drowning in poorly organized data.
But the most radical bit of the concept is the self-driving car. What may appear to be a gimmick is actually a carefully designed space. “The vehicle provides an in-between space,” says Jordan. It’s like a CVS Minute Clinic on wheels, with a patient self-directed as to what to do next via software–cutting down on the staffing costs behind routine measurements often gathered by nurses. “You can take the model of a patient going to Walgreens and doing the automated pressure cuff,” says Jordan.
The floor automatically weighs you when you walk in. Its pressure sensitivity can measure BMI, and posture, too. The chair has built-in acoustic sensors, which hear your respiration like a stethoscope. And a wraparound screen provides augmented reality interactions, to guide the patient through the experience. They may even be asked to literally point to where it hurts.
For your simple prescription refill, or an easily diagnosed problem, the vehicle is also a pharmacy, with AI capable of dispensing the most popular medications instantly. That AI can also present to you exactly what certain treatments would cost out of pocket, while mining similar patient data, to offer firm statistics–rather than the sometimes prescription-biased doctor logic–on how successful they’ve been in the past.
“One point that’s been challenging is to create an experience based upon today’s technology, or something a year or two away,” says Artefact industrial designer Ben Collette. “We didn’t invent anything there. . . . Everything you see is clinically proven, or about to be.”
Doctors wouldn’t be removed from the equation entirely. The space could also offer a discrete booth for telemedicine, and remote, face-to-face meetings, too. Artefact points out that in 2015, 52% of health care consortium Kaiser Permanente’s business was done online, which the vehicle could further enable.
Maybe it’s all too good to be true. Even if all the core technology works out–and it really is hard to imagine a self-driving, self-administered doctor’s visit when a far simpler Uber ride is still operated by a person–policy needs to follow. Insurance companies would probably need to foot the bill, and patients would have to agree to be more open with their private health data. The FDA agrees such changes are needed, but the health care industry is a slow, lumbering infrastructure. And worst of all, it’s still reliant on countless disparate companies coming together to agree on the interoperability of patient data.
Artefact doesn’t have a customer for this concept. And the designers don’t have plans to bring any of it to market, either. “But we hope for, is that it communicates what a vision [for health care] could be. So it serves as a North Star,” says Jordan. “There’s a very big need for much better care experiences.”