Since the internet became airborne and gave rise to smartphones that are every bit as connected to the world wide web as any desktop computer, any mall, taxi, fast food restaurant, or public park can play host to a video conference as long as you have your personal smartphone connection up and running.
But what about the public sphere? The once popular internet cafes have been decimated by the rise of smartphones and wireless internet, and there are few services outside public libraries that get much extended use by the public.
New York City’s 2015 attempt to install public internet kiosks very quickly turned unsavory and the system was downgraded less than a year into service.
But what if the public hardware had a specific purpose? What if it wasn’t presented as just a means to connect to Google? And what if it featured unique hardware you couldn’t access on your phone or your laptop?
The Virtual Check-up
Would you undergo a medical physical in the middle of an airport? What if we gave you a little privacy in a phone booth-sized cubicle?
There’s a chance you’ve just been given a rather intimate inspection at the security gate anyhow, so what have you got to lose?
For all the mobile apps that promise you a virtual visit with your doctor, there aren’t any that come with the hardware to actually measure your heart rate, or let you submit a blood sample.
And while such hardware is slowly becoming a commercial reality, it’s going to remain expensive for a while yet, and you probably won’t need to use it more than a couple times a year at most.
So maybe this is one technology that can find a place in the internet’s public life.
It’s about to be trialed in India, albeit at a slower pace than air travel.
Consult Your Doctor in Public
Indian Railways is about to install a series of health ATMs across its rail network, which will act as walk-in kiosks with bio-testing facilities and a medical attendant.
The ATMs will let waiting passengers consult with a doctor via an HD video call, but they’ll be able to move beyond a basic chat and visual check-up by undertaking tests for Body Mass Index, pulse rate, blood pressure, lipid profile, blood glucose, and hemoglobin.
It’s part of an Indian internet revolution that’s been driven by the federal government with the support of some very powerful technology names. In fact, the railway network is currently home to some of the best internet connectivity in the country. And it’s free.
Turning that processing power into a way to boost public health is obviously positive thinking, but just how much can you accomplish in the time it takes for your train to arrive? Or is the rail service expecting people will make a special trip to their local station in order to remotely visit the doctor? That part remains a little unclear.
The other big questions is: would people feel comfortable undergoing such tests in public? This is a question not just for the people of India.
Are You Ready for a Public Health Check-Up?
There are plenty of circumstances that could leave you needing to supply regular bio-tests to your doctor. If you’re pregnant, for instance, or diabetic, or have a heart condition or an ongoing illness that needs close monitoring.
In such cases, knowing in advance that you could submit this information from a public place, like an airport, would mean you wouldn’t need to worry about sticking close to home most of the time in order to make the regular doctor visits.
Internet connectivity in the U.S. is on average seven times faster than that of India, and there are certainly enough layovers and delays on domestic flights to make it worthwhile importing such technology to airports, probably the closest analog to India’s rail system. Or perhaps, in larger cities with subway or metro systems, like New York, D.C., and Chicago, booths offering routine medical testing and check-ups could be placed at subway stops, among the information booths and restaurants selling stale pretzels.
Ultimately, the viability of such a service may come down to whether or not the general public would feel comfortable using so intimate a service amid a sea of strangers.
The tech doesn’t require you to strip naked, but you’d want to know all the equipment is sterile, the “booth” is clean and presentable, and the doctor on the other end of the video call has a calming, unintimidating bedside manner.
Technological advances already have us making private phone calls in public places, and dating strangers we’ve only encountered online, so maybe once we get used to the idea a public health consult won’t seem so bizarre.
Heck, if it’d help save your life a public medical check-up might soon become no big deal at all.