The Evolving World of Remote Care

Event Recap of Remote Care: From the Electronic Patient to Self-Tracking, 10/9/18

By Sariah Bunker

On October 9, we gathered to discuss how post-war media technological advances revolutionized medicine and how they continue to shape the field today. Jeremy Greene (Professor of Medicine and the History of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University) dwelt on the invention of Telemedicine by Dr. Kenneth T. Bird in the 1960s. Bird utilized black and white interactive cable television in his Massachusetts General Hospital Field station at Gate 23 of the Logan Airport to diagnose and interact with patients remotely. The project began after a plane accident which sparked talk of adding a small medical unit to the airport. Bird was fascinated with the role of communications technology in medicine, even citing media theorists like Marshall McLuhan in his academic work. Eventually Bird’s project and others like it ran out of funding after the 1970s, but dramatically altered the spatial landscape of medicine by integrating new communications media & theory into diagnostic practice.

Natasha Schull, (Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, NYU) dove into the fast-changing world of contemporary technology to discuss robotic care mediators and instruments, like the Sense Mother. This device, shaped like a small Russian nesting doll comes with programmable motion sensors designed to collect data or remind the user to complete tasks. Schull discussed how this device and products like it reshape how users perform care for themselves and others, as it assumes the responsibilities assigned to it so that the user doesn’t have to. Schull’s presentation raised issues of automation in the medical care industry through the technology she presented.

Hannah Zeavin (Lecturer, Department of English, UC Berkeley) transported the audience to Cornell University’s campus in the 1980s, to discuss the evolution of e-therapy. Cornell’s CUInfo program made waves when their “Ask Uncle Ezra” program responded to a suicidal student’s inquiry. Ask Uncle Ezra functioned like an advice column, as students could anonymously submit questions through one of CUInfo’s terminals spread across campus. Uncle Ezra’s responses were accessible only through the terminal, which created an environment of collective therapy, as the Cornell community read and discussed Uncle Ezra’s response to the suicidal student. Through this presentation, Zeavin raised the question of distance intimacy, vital in the contemporary context since e-therapy has become a 30 billion dollar per year industry. Distance intimacy is how clinicians work therapeutically from a remote location, using a different set of techniques to build a rapport with their remote patients compared to the rapport they build with their face-to-face patients.

Kelli Moore (Assistant Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, NYU) focused on a specific segment of the population that participates in the remote care industry: the incarcerated. Correctional facilities are typically found in more isolated locations, which makes health care difficult, as inmates may have to travel significant distances to receive care. Moore asserted that tele-medicine and remote care technology helps improve health outcomes for inmates. Her discussion saw remote care in a different light than her fellow panelists, as she commented on how telemedicine can be used specifically to treat populations who are situated remotely, rather than to remotely treat populations regardless of physical location.

The panelists and moderator then opened the floor to discussion, taking questions from the audience, and elaborating further on the phenomenon of remote care.  

Listen to the full event below: