PARIS (Reuters) – For anyone putting off visiting their doctor because they fear picking up the COVID-19 infection while in the waiting room, a French inventor has a solution: an automated miniature doctor’s surgery.
The patient goes inside a cabin the size of a large wardrobe, sits down, and talks to a real-life doctor over a video link while using sensors inside the cabin to take their own temperature, or check their blood pressure, oxygen saturation levels, and heart rate.
The set-up has been on the market for the past three years but has seen a surge of interest since the new coronavirus outbreak, according to H4D, the French company that created the device.
One of the cabins was installed in an annexe of the mayor’s office in Mennecy, a town about 40 km (25 miles) south of Paris, on the banks of the Essonne river.
The mayor, Jean-Philippe Dugoin-Clement, said plans to install the device were brought forward when the coronavirus outbreak hit France. As of Tuesday, official data shows that 23,660 people have so far died from conditions linked to the virus.
“A lot of patients are frightened right now of going into a classical doctor’s surgery, and some doctors have slowed down their activities,” said Dugoin-Clement.
Virtual medical consultations, conducted over a smartphone app or a computer screen, have also seen an increase in use since the outbreak.
The automated cabin takes that a step further by providing clinical-standard measurements of a patient’s vital signs that are transmitted in real-time to the doctor at the other end of the video link.
The cabin, at the end of the consultation, also prints out for the patient a summary of their measurements.
Franck Baudino, a doctor by training and the chief executive of H4D, said some of the cabins have been installed in French hospitals receiving walk-in patients with COVID-19 symptoms.
An automated video tutorial talks the patient through how to measure their vital signs so by the time they see a doctor in the flesh, that part of the procedure has already been completed, Baudino told Reuters.
Celestin Guillouet is a doctor in general practice who this week was providing video consultations to people using the cabin at the mayor’s office in Mennecy.
“Generally people are fairly comfortable with it. They all look at it with some curiosity,” he said. But he added: “I don’t think we will ever replace the general practitioner.”
(Story corrects company CEO’s name to Franck Baudino not Frank Baudino in paragraph 10)
(Reporting by Lucien Libert; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Alison Williams)