In both developed and developing countries, tele-health is increasingly a means to facilitate access to medical treatment. One example is the Consult-Station, a patented e-health monitoring booth which has been approved by France’s Health authorities.
Is tele-medicine deemed to be a reliable way of addressing the problem of regions which lack adequate medical support? This is certainly the view of the French Minister for Social Affairs and Health, Marisol Touraine, who just over a year ago made the development of this kind of technology one of her priorities as part of her country-wide health pact. And it is also the opinion of a doctor, Franck Baudino, who believes that "long term the new technologies will provide effective solutions" to the phenomenon which in France has been dubbed 'medical deserts'. Baudino intends to prove his point as well, partnering with entrepreneur Laurent Filippi to develop an e-health booth which enables doctors to monitor their patients remotely. Named the Consult-Station, the mobile booth has been developed by the company Baudino founded – H4D, short for 'Health for Development'. The Consult-Station provides a medical support environment for patients and doctors, both in the better-off parts of the world and in developing countries, "in full compliance with the strict framework set by regional health agencies and directives on tele-medicine," says the company.
Three stations rolled into one
The Consult-Station comes in three different formats. The basic version provides a ten-minute check-up, measuring weight, height, pulse rate, and other basic biometrics. The patient then receives two tickets, one for him/her, and the other for the doctor, with the secure codes enabling the patient to access the data that has been gathered and stored in an approved database on the website jemesurveille.com. The second format is quite similar, but in addition includes an electrocardiograph. Baudino explains that "the first version is mainly for retirement homes while the second is aimed more at clinics, the objective being to integrate the Consult-Station system into the health monitoring process." The third booth designed by the H4D founders enables a video-conferencing session with a doctor. It also contains a stethoscope for cardiac data, an otoscope to inspect the ear canal, a dermatoscope for checking skin problems, and a range of sensors and oximeters. Baudino explains that "this third version is mainly targeted at local authorities and companies".
Maintaining the concept of a medical space
One might however ask why people would use such a system. Baudino argues that if you look at the purely scientific aspect, "the value lies in having a controlled environment in which to carry out analysis and checking of the patient’s data." But he nevertheless sees the key aspect as the social-organisational dimension – i.e. the fact that "the booth makes the patient aware that this is actually a medical environment, albeit in an unusual form – which is extremely important for him or her to realise – which will still preserve patient-doctor confidentiality." One does not need to be in the same room to maintain effective confidentiality and the word ‘closeness’ in this sense is today over-used in France, he argues. This could therefore be a very effective way of "putting an end to medical isolation, situations where the nearest medical assistance is far away." Perhaps the system will also give a much-needed boost to the country-wide health pact, whose results are still rather poor. The objective of the ‘pact’, which was to encourage young doctors to move out to ‘medical deserts’ in France for at least one year by offering higher remuneration plus other favourable arrangements, is still struggling to attract medics to some regions.