Having to visit the doctor can be arduous.
For those that don’t have a car, they oftentimes need to utilize multiple mass transit options and the journey itself is so exasperating and enough of a barrier that they might forego making the visit.
When people don’t get over to see a physician, the odds are that whatever prompted them initially to consider going will get worse, ultimately meaning that at some point they will be forced into a visit and the effort and cost to deal with the issue will be heightened.
There’s a micro and macro consequence to this:
· Micro. In the individual case, this can mean that people suffer while unable to find a means to get to a medical expert and their aliment can progress beyond the point of using simpler methods to solve their health problem.
· Macro. In the aggregate, this means that as a society we are inadvertently increasing our costs of healthcare since we aren’t catching health issues early and thus having to pony up more medical care and more expensive medical care once the health issue finally starts to get resolved.
Even those that do have a car aren’t necessarily on the easy street about going to see a medical specialist.
If your ailment is bad enough that you aren’t able to safely drive, you need to find someone else to drive your car. The driver would need to be licensed to drive and has to be available to give you a lift, plus they would presumably need to stick around during your appointment so that they could drive you back home (plus, they might get exposed to whatever you have).
Today’s era of healthcare has tried to acknowledge these downsides by pushing medical assistance further out into where we live and work, rather than always having to go to a centralized place to get care.
For clarity, as a former top tech executive at one of the major home healthcare companies, I’ve seen first-hand that having healthcare providers able to come out to the home or office has been a heartening trend, enabling many in society to more readily and easily receive healthcare.
Nicely too, various pharmacies and retail stores now offer an on-site clinician for undertaking a select set of outpatient activities, plus retail brick-and-mortar sites have tried other innovative approaches such as setting up electronic kiosks that provide TV-screen remote access to a wide range of medical specialists.
These small yet incremental steps in bringing healthcare to people versus people having to get to healthcare are going to be increasingly sought.
If only we could wave a magic wand and have healthcare that’s available anytime and anyplace, it would be a dream come true.
This brings up an interesting point: The advent of truly self-driving cars and the use of AI HealthTech portends an upcoming surge in any time anyplace healthcare, and many believe it will be an incredible boon to American health and wellness.
Let’s unpack the matter and those vaunted dreams.
The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars
It is important to clarify what I mean when referring to true self-driving cars.
True self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.
These driverless vehicles are considered a Level 4 and Level 5, while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at a Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).
There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.
Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some point out).
Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).
For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public is forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that in spite of those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.
You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.
Self-Driving Cars Key Elements
For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.
All occupants will be passengers.
The AI is doing the driving.
Your first thought might be that this doesn’t seem to make any remarkable difference to the matter of getting people-to-healthcare or healthcare-to-people.
Isn’t having the AI doing the driving just the same as if you had a human doing the driving, in terms of this question about people and healthcare access?
Actually, it’s going to be a sea change.
First, by having the AI do the driving there is no longer the logistics difficulties of finding and using a driver.
The AI is always there in the self-driving car and ready to drive.
No need for coffee breaks. No naps. No limits to perhaps driving just an 8-hour shift and then calling it to quit for the day.
In the case of human-driven cars, you need to find someone that is able to drive, presumably properly licensed to drive, and available to drive. There is a likely cost involved in both finding the driver and having them do the driving. Furthermore, while you are seeing a medical specialist, the driver might need to stick around and therefore chew-up more cost as they idly wait for you to finish.
We already have seen that today’s ridesharing has helped somewhat to contend with the driving conundrum, but there are still barriers involved. Having a human driver still entails added cost and complexities.
In addition, a human driver might baulk at driving someone that seems ill, worried about contracting something, and thus leaving those needing a lift without a ride.
And, a human driver that is willing to drive, perhaps doing so generously at their own peril, might inadvertently get infected, and then unknowingly pass along the infection to all subsequent riders in their car.
In short, AI-driven self-driving cars are going to make an access and use to a car become much easier, presumably at a lower cost, and many pundits have declared that we are heading into a mobility-based economy and a mobility bonanza.
This mobility-for-all will hopefully extend too to those that are today mobility disadvantaged, which in turn suggests that the healthcare needs of those without mobility access are going to be turned around and get a better shot at access to healthcare.
Secondly, by removing a human driver from the driving act, you can free-up the interior of the self-driving car and reshape what the inside of the car has and can do.
Imagine that you no longer were constrained by needing to design a car to have a fixed position at the front seat to encompass a steering wheel and driving pedals.
Automakers are envisioning that the interior of driverless cars will have perhaps swivelling seats, allowing passengers to face each other and carry on conversations, rather than having to awkwardly twist and turn by looking over the seats rooted inside existing conventional cars.
The seats will also fully recline, allowing riders to get some sleep while commuting to work.
The windows of the driverless car are going to be outfitted with LED displays facing inward.
Besides allowing you to use 5G and rapidly stream your favourite Netflix shows, you can also invoke a Facetime-like interactive video chat feature, allowing you to dialogue in real-time with your kids at home while you are stuck in traffic after leaving work.
Let’s combine together the aspect that the AI is doing the driving, plus driverless cars will have ready and rapid internet access and the aspect that self-driving cars will have reconstituted interiors.
Turns out to be a potent combination.
New Soup For The Soul
I’ll rattle off the myriad of ways that healthcare and people are going to interconnect in a manner that is either new or at least more readily enabled as a result of true self-driving cars:
· BYOT Wearable HealthTech. People will likely have their own wearable HealthTech of one kind or another, such as a fitness wristband or a smartwatch that keeps track of their body status and will get into a driverless car wearing their BYOT (Bring Your Own Tech). The AI of the self-driving car will be able to connect with the wearable stuff via API’s (well, it will be hodge-podge at first), and thus your car and your health status will be at one during a driving journey (though privacy concerns can arise). For more about how the Internet of Things (IoT) and driverless cars will interplay, see this link here.
· In-Car Wearable HealthTech. Within self-driving cars, they can come equipped with wearable HealthTech at-the-ready (no need to bring your own), allowing you to get plugged in during a driving journey. You’ll easily get your blood pressure reading and other vital health stats, using the provided devices.
· In-Car AI Healthcare Analyses. The primary AI of the driverless car is there to drive the car, but this doesn’t mean that there can’t be other AI modules on-board too. Via the wearable device data that is being collected as you travel inside a self-driving car, the AI-based medical system capability can be doing a diagnosis of your condition and offer advice about how to enhance your health and wellness.
· Cloud-Based AI Healthcare Analyses. The AI that’s doing the healthcare stuff doesn’t have to be on-board the driverless car and could instead be cloud-based. There’s going to be plenty of high-speed internet access inside driverless cars and with the LED displays inside the vehicle, you can pull-up the best AI “specialists” that are versed in specific domains.
· AI Facial Recognition For Health Status. Most driverless cars will have cameras that point inward, doing so to allow you to do interactive remote Skype-like sessions while travelling inside the self-driving car. Those cameras can also be used by AI that is able to do facial recognition in a manner that is beyond simply detecting who you are. The latest aspects include detecting your mood or sentiment and possibly uncovering telltale signs of possibly health-related issues via reading your face (see this link on empathetic computing).
· AI Voice Recognition For Health Status. Similar to using AI facial recognition, the AI voice recognition can try to ascertain your health status via how your voice sounds. Thus, rather than only doing voice recognition to figure out what commands or instructions you are giving to the AI system, the AI can attempt to discover telltale signs of potential health-related issues via your voice, such as your having slurred speech or might be experiencing difficulty in forming words and being coherent.
· Added In-Car Sensors For Health Detection. Besides the inward-facing cameras, there could be other sensors that are also aimed at the passengers and are used to ascertain health status (such as thermal imaging, etc. of a non-wearable nature). These would be in addition to or in lieu of using wearable HealthTech devices inside the driverless car.
· Remote Access Combined With AI. Imagine that you bring up a live session with your doctor, doing so while inside the self-driving car, and meanwhile, the AI elements of the driverless car that pertain to health are also participating. The doctor asks what your temperature is, and the AI quickly jumps in and indicates that via the wearable or via the other sensors it has been tracking your temperature and it has been steadily rising in the twenty minutes you’ve been riding. The overall notion is that you might interact with human medical specialists and do so in combination with the AI and the HealthTech devices during a driverless car journey.
· Taking You To Healthcare. The self-driving car might be taking you to a healthcare provider as per your request to do so, and thus the driverless car is merely a form of transport and not employing other on-board or accessible HealthTech. Meanwhile, the AI might at least be able to reassure you, telling you that you are on your way and you will be getting there soon.
· Midstream Taking You To Healthcare. Similar to the aforementioned aspect of taking you to healthcare, this variant consists of you not having initially requested to visit healthcare, but during the driving journey, something has arisen that leads to you needing to do so. The AI might have detected something amiss in your wellness status and then offered to rush you to the nearest healthcare location, or you might have decided that you abruptly need to head to healthcare and have told the AI to aim to a new destination accordingly.
· Fail-safe Option Of Healthcare Destination. Yet another variant of the process of visiting healthcare is the possibility that someone inside a self-driving car might suddenly collapse and no longer be conscious. If you had a human driver, the odds are that the human driver would realize things are amiss and divert to the nearest emergency room. The AI of the self-driving car can be doing the same kind of monitoring and if the rider seemingly is unresponsive, there could be a “fail-safe” option of the driverless car automatically routing to an ER.
· Rendezvous With Healthcare. Perhaps the nearest ER or other medical facility is relatively far away. Via the use of V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) electronic communications, your driverless car could beam out a broadcast asking if there are any other nearby vehicles that contain medical specialists that could help you. The AI of your driverless car then could coordinate a rendezvous with some other self-driving car that has someone capable to help, meeting at the nearest roadway stop. The same kind of rendezvous could be done with ambulances, police, fire trucks, and other authorities that might be able to provide the soonest possible health assistance.
· Healthcare Provider As A Ride-A-Long. Some driverless car services might provide an added option of having a human clinician come along in the self-driving car with you. These nurses and other medical specialists might end-up all day long riding in driverless cars, and be available for those that request a self-driving car ridesharing ride and specify that they wish to have a healthcare specialist included for the driving journey (these mobile clinicians and other new job roles will gradually emerge due to the advent of self-driving cars, see this link here). You might get your annual flu shot this way.
· Healthcare Specialty Self-Driving Cars. Besides the use of everyday “normal” driverless cars, we can expect that healthcare providers are going to purposely outfit fleets of self-driving cars for the purposes of providing on-the-road healthcare access. They’ll either buy a bunch of driverless cars or cut a deal with some firm that owns a fleet and agree to jointly turn some of those self-driving cars into a set of rolling healthcare mobile facilities.
· Transaction-Based Healthcare. Whatever kind of healthcare activity occurs while riding in a driverless car, in some cases it would be transitory and only be associated with the particular driving journey of that moment, essentially being considered transaction-based.
· Enduring Based Healthcare. Unlike the one-time transaction-based healthcare experience of being inside a driverless car, it could be that when you get into the self-driving car it is able to bring up your entire health history. This health history might include all other driverless car trips you’ve been on, including the health measurements made and analyses done, and might go further and have access to your complete EMR/EHR (Electronic Medical Records or Electronic Health Records) database. Of course, this raises a lot of HIPAA related complications to be figured out.
As you can see, there are numerous emerging possibilities and many more to come.
This all seems nifty, but who’s going to pay for it?
Lots of options already exist and will be developed:
· People that opt to use self-driving cars might be presented with various optional fees for using an AI HealthTech savvy driverless car and be able to decide whether they want to incur those added fees or not.
· Automakers and other firms that deploy fleets of driverless cars might decide to compete against each other in gaining market share of having people choose to use their brand of self-driving cars, doing so by offering AI HealthTech capabilities as a competitive advantage to lure riders to them.
· Health insurers might encourage people to use AI HealthTech aware self-driving cars, doing so if they believe that it will ultimately decrease the cost of healthcare by earlier and more pervasively conducting health and wellness efforts.
· The government might likewise determine that using self-driving cars in this manner is an overall benefit for society, accomplishing in the aggregate expanded access to healthcare, and therefore could be included as valid reimbursements for government underwritten costs of enabling health and wellness care.
· And so on.
At this time, we don’t yet have enough self-driving cars at even Level 4 to adequately explore how this new mobility era is going to intertwine with healthcare.
As such, we are only at the beginning cusp of what might come next.
I’ll bet you this, some number of years from now, when true self-driving cars and AI are prevalent, they will be so immersed into healthcare aspects that we’ll wonder how we ever got along without them being interwoven into a cohesive and comprehensive whole.
You can take that bet to the bank, along with the assurance that we’ll all have better health as a result of driverless cars intertwined with our medical and healthcare needs.