How can Self Driving Cars Change Healthcare?

Mike Gillam, 7 May 2015

Self-driving cars seem to be on a tear. Tesla has announced they will have self-driving cars as early as this summer. Google, whose self driving car has logged over 1.7 million miles, crashed once (when a human took the wheel) and in 11 accidents all the fault of humans, believes their self-driving cars will be available by 2017. Volvo announced their self driving cars will be available by 2017.

Though it is unclear who will win the race to the road, there appears to be rampant optimism the race will be won in just a few years.

How will life change with self-driving cars?

IDEO recently joined the conceptualizing of how self-driving cars will change the world and presented the concept of “WorkOnWheels.” Instead of you driving to the office, you will “ride the office” to “work.”

The concept tantalizes with the idea that when the office becomes mobile, the office can be “anywhere.”

So how can self-driving cars change healthcare?

Today, every waiting room visit is a biohazard risk. It can be uncomfortable for patients who may wish to just stay in bed recovering at home. Yet for many patients – all they need are a few labs or even just a chest x-ray.

Just like the modular appearance of the Copenhagen skyscraper, our clinical hospitals could become modular themselves, autonomously roaming the streets and delivering themselves to patients homes when diagnostic tests are needed.

In this scenario, one winter day a elderly patient with a fever and a cough at home teleconferences with their doctor. The doctor sends an autonomous x-ray vehicle. The vehicle pulls up outside the patients house. The patient wraps in a blanket, walks down their steps to the vehicle – steps in, follows the directions, and a few minutes later the x-ray is sent to the doctor. Moments later the patient receives a call back from the doctor, “Hi Mrs. Smith, it looks like pneumonia but mild enough we can let you stay at home. The antibiotic car is on the way. Call me if you aren’t feeling better.”

With self driving cars, instead of patients going to get tests, the tests could come to us.

Mike Gillam, MD, FACEP 2015

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