These ‘health ATMs’ serve as doctors where there are none

It’s a machine that takes most of your primary care reading and connect you with a doctor over video chat

Kylee McIntyre September 19, 2016

It’s time for your yearly checkup. You go to your local clinic, walk in, sit down, and get the full battery of tests – vital signs, glucose, cholesterol, other blood tests, and body mass calculations. The doctor uses a stethoscope and checks your skin over for any abnormalities you have noticed. When you’re finished, you get a printout of all of your test readings – with the option of emailing it to yourself and another physician – and you leave.

The whole process costs around US$15 and takes four to five minutes, because – save a little help from the medical attendant standing to the side – all of this has been done by a machine.

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A medical ATM is now doing precisely that in India. It’s a machine that takes most of your primary care reading and connect you with a doctor over video chat for further consultation. Plus it’s lending a hand to more rural areas in India where full-time doctors are rare.

The check-up ATM works over a slow 2G or 3G connection.               PHOTO: YOLO HEALTH

YOLO Health began using its ATM system about eight months ago and has 17 of the machines in circulation. Some are being used by corporates in Mumbai. However, most of the machines reside in areas including Kolkata and rural regions like Karnataka’s Kolar District, and the Sukma and Dantewada districts in the state of Chattisgarh. That’s how co-founders Dhilly Babu, Shreyans Gandhi, and Arpit Mishra mainly want the apparatus used.

“YOLO” stands for “you only live once,” today’s trendy way of telling people to “seize the day.” When applied to healthcare, it takes on a more sobering meaning. As of last year, India has one doctor for every 11,528 people in government hospitals. While the number of doctors in India is rising, it’s not rising fast enough to take care of everyone. Lots of startups have popped up to try to shorten the distance between doctor and patient via video consultation, such as SeeDoc and JustDoc.

The prevalence of lifestyle diseases in the country – conditions like diabetes or hypertension that require close monitoring from a physician – is also rising, with 25% reported at risk of dying from such a disease before the age of 70. The type of monitoring required often involves looking at blood readings and other preventative measures carried out by a primary care physician.

That’s exactly the kind of care that Dhilly and the team believes can be outsourced to the ATM. A patient sitting at the ATM gets walked through the specific tests and services it offers. To help out, especially in rural areas where residents speak a dialect, an attendant sits closeby to answer a patient’s questions or help with tasks like putting on the ATM’s blood pressure cuff correctly. The helper doesn’t have to be a trained medical professional at all – he or she just needs to speak the local language.

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“We want to remove the high skilled requirement in these locations and train a very very basic guy,” Dhilly tells Tech in Asia. The person can be a school dropout and still be able to operate the system.

The ATM’s services can function over a slow 2G or 3G connection as finding data service in remote parts of the country is difficult. “We also operate an offline model for locations with no to poor connectivity,” says Dhilly. “Here, all health screening and video consultations could be performed offline without any connection.” In this case, the video can be recorded and sent later when the connection is back – or when the power comes back on. Around 6,000 patients have used the 17 ATM’s in the past six months. YOLO Health is trying to partner with more hospitals as well as India’s government to improve coverage. It’s also running a pilot in Delhi to try out the ATMs in places like city centers and supermarkets.

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Yolo India has only one doctor for every 11,528 individuals  PHOTO: YOLO HEALTH

Patients using the ATM pay per test and consultation. A basic health screening is free. For an advanced health screening, a patient can pay US$2.25. A doctor consultation costs US$3.75, while a specialist consultation is US$5.25. Additional tests, such as for a heart screening or diabetes check-up, cost around the same amount. YOLO Health licenses the ATMs to its clients for a yearly fee of nearly US$4,500. Of the fee charged per video consultation, the startup takes 25%.

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Doing the tests on-site may also eliminate excess fees accumulated when a doctor sends a patient to a partner lab. A startup called Medd sought to solve this problem and was acquired in July by e-pharmacy startup 1mg. The founders registered the company two and a half years ago but began operations in February this year. The company now has a staff of 17 and aims to install 10,000 kiosks around India.

Though the company seeks to make healthcare more convenient, Dhilly is mindful of how it departs from a traditional, more human-centered model. He recalls asking that of himself when developing the ATM: “Human touch, going to a doctor – it’s considered very important in healthcare. How do you accommodate that issue?”

The medical attendant helps, but perhaps the biggest obstacle facing YOLO Health is patient perception about healthcare in India, something that only time can change.

This article originally appeared on Tech in Asia.


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