Tele-Medicine station could cut ER visits, save on healthcare costs

It's a modern twist on the classic house call: Doctors beamed to patients to delivery healthcare via virtual interfaces.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

Would you tell your problems to a virtual, life-sized rendering of a doctor doling out advice and prescriptions from hundreds of miles away? That's the vision of OnMed, a Florida-based company out of stealth today with a telemedicine station meant to make it easier to access healthcare by beaming doctors to patients.

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It's a modern twist on the classic house call, and the market case is strong. Seven out of 10 emergency room visits are unnecessary, and many Americans visit the ER for non-emergency health needs. The result is billions of wasted healthcare dollars and thousands of wasted hours in wait times.

Telemedicine, which could decentralize healthcare by distributing doctors into local communities virtually, could ease some of that strain. In France, people are already visiting Telehealth cabins for fast, convenient healthcare. During the recent Ebola crisis, the University of Virginia delivered care in parts of Africa via telemedicine.

"When it comes to delivering a comprehensive doctor/patient encounter via telemedicine, sometimes our phone just isn't the answer," says Austin White, founding partner and CEO of OnMed. "We need the accuracy provided by a live face-to-face visit using the latest diagnostic tools, and the ability to receive medication all in one sitting."

But there are obstacles, including regulatory hurdles, technological challenges, and the delicate matter of building patient trust. 

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OnMed, which has been developing its telemedicine station for the last six years, believes it's cracked the code and plans to use its private equity financing to scale worldwide. OnMed's station uses HD video and audio, thermal imaging to measure temperature and help diagnose infection, and ultraviolet sanitization. Doubling as a secure, automated vault, the OnMed station can be stocked with common medication, enabling doctors to write prescriptions that can be filled instantly.

The station relies on 3D facial recognition to verify identity, a crucial challenge for telemedecine. 

"Our disruptive healthcare technology is turning telemedicine into something that can actually bridge the gaps in our current healthcare system and improve access, cost and quality of care," says White.

There are signs patients are open to new methods of healthcare delivery, including the popularity of CVS's walk-in MinuteClinic model. OnMed's stations will deployed in hospitals, but also in non-traditional environments, such as colleges, airports, hotels, and the offices of large private employers.

The first units will be deployed this year, according to a company spokesperson.

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