Driverless Cars/Doctorless Healthcare
Whitney Fuessel in Accelerator, Healthcare Accelerators

Image © FaceMePLS

This post is part of a series on the rise of healthcare accelerators, and fostering collaborative medicine through innovation.

As I drive in my neighborhood, I am constantly reminded of the theme of convenience. By the mobile dog washes pulled up into driveways; the dry cleaned clothes hanging from car doors; by the roll-up nail salons to remedy that manicure that just can’t wait. With the onset of driverless cars taking speed in our society, as a healthcare designer, I can’t help but wonder if the next step in my field is the “uberdoc.”

I was recently talking with a friend who needed to take her two-year-old in for allergy testing. It became a stressful day, not because of the test itself, but because of the unnecessary time she and her toddler spent in the waiting room. A 30-minute appointment became a two-and-a-half hour event. That has become the norm.

Rarely do people stress over visiting with their doctor or clinic. They stress about the time away from work, family, or commitments in order to see the doctor. And that stress is compounded by the unreasonable waits.

Reducing stress is the challenge that will bring “uberdoc” into the realm of reality. What if instead of recycling the model of the house call, we introduce the “uber” doctor that can come to you, wherever you request it. You could track the “uberdoc” location on your smart device and not have to wait. You could schedule a visit or test at a location and time that is convenient for you, through the technology of driverless cars, innovative health devices, telemed technologies, global positioning and mobile apps.

Jennifer Liebermann, Founder and Director of Kaiser Permanent’s Innovation Center, gave a presentation in June about the impact of driverless cars on healthcare. She presented a scenario of an aging couple, in which the husband wears a device that can alert a central station if something were to go wrong with his health. A call is then immediately put in to his wife to query her about the situation and her husband’s medical history. Suddenly, up drives a car with no driver inside, but rather medical tools to take his vitals and check his oxygen levels and blood. The results from the tests are immediately reviewed by a doctor at a distant office. That doctor then presents different courses of treatment and cost through a video conference—like the ones many of us use daily to have meetings.

Children’s Health Fetal Center © Gensler, Ryan Gobuty

While this scenario may be criticized as impersonal by some, it could without a doubt remove inconvenience in day to day health care services that so many of us avoid.

The other day, I was driving my son to school and we had a close call with what could have been an accident. He says to me “I can’t wait until we are all in driverless cares, it would be better for our society.” This young millennial sees a connection between a better society and healthcare. From his perspective, there is a direct impact from driverless cars to less accidents, less hospital visits due to fewer collisions.

Google_self-driving_Lexus_SUV_rear_view ©Runner1929, via Wikimedia Commons

In fact, the U.S. is on track to have its deadliest traffic year since 2007, with nearly 19,000 people killed as a result of motor vehicle accidents between January and June, according to the National Safety Council. That’s a 14 percent increase over the same period last year.

It would seem that not only is the driverless car becoming a useful tool for us to receive all types of services, but it could actually save our lives. It’s time that we pay more attention to this technology and embrace what the future may hold when we let go of the wheel.

Whitney Fuessel has dedicated her career to healthcare architecture and design. She is always looking for the next opportunity to engage with clients and to drive their vision to a newly defined space. A Design Director and leader of Gensler’s South Central Health & Wellness practice area, Whitney partners with clients to understand the user’s journey, creating spaces that are easy to navigate and enhance the healthcare experience through design. Contact her at
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