Health Care

Art project that connects people shows promise for telemedicine

What started as a global art project in New York City has caught the eye of Kansas health care leaders for its potential as a new form of telemedicine.

Amar Bakshi, a Ivy League grad turned artist, started an art experiment in December 2014 that uses gold-painted shipping containers, uniformly decorated, to virtually connect people in a way that makes them feel as if they’re in the same room. The project is called Shared Studios, and the containers are called portals.

“It really is about the whole body as opposed to just privileging the face,” Bakshi said.

Abdul Arif, executive director of South Central Kansas Economic Development, brought Bakshi to Wichita on Friday after seeing his art project on national news two weeks ago. Arif said he hopes to start a pilot project with portals in Wichita and Dodge City for telemedicine, the use of technology to diagnose and treat patients virtually.

Bakshi said he intends only to pursue his project artistically but is supportive of other groups who want to use the idea.

The feeling of shared space in the portal works via an eye-level camera in the center of a screen at one end of the shipping container. The wall-size projection creates an illusion of an extended room. The effect is created using light combinations and acoustic principles that make people feel as if they’re in the room together.

“I loved meeting people and I wanted to know why Skype and Google Hangout just didn’t achieve that,” he said.

Thus far, Bakshi and his team have set up six portals around the world: Afghanistan, Iran, Cuba, New York, Connecticut and Washington, D.C. He said he’ll soon add San Francisco and Honduras to the list and would love to add Wichita, too.

“The concept is quite simple,” he said.

The portals are identical and cost much less than the price to create a holographic experience.

But the necessity of the portals is up for debate in many areas of medicine.

“The level of interaction you need to make a correct medical diagnosis is not that high,” said Elisha Yaghmai, president of Vigilias, a Wichita-based telemedicine group.

For example, he said, a liver doctor only needs to see a patient’s lab results to make an accurate diagnosis. And most telemedicine only requires a smartphone.

“You need to find the application where that interaction is not good enough,” he said.

The most obvious that came to mind: mental health.

Most support for the portals centered on areas of medicine where personal interaction plays a more direct role in health outcomes.

Some areas include chronic disease that relies heavily on the patient-provider interaction and education, such as diabetes and hypertension. Pregnancy was another suggested area of medicine where patient-provider interaction sways health results.

When talking about his art installation, Bakshi said the impact of eye-to-eye contact and seeing another person as you would in the real world made impressions on his participants.

“I was surprised because people came out deeply moved,” Bakshi said.

The business model, funding and use of the portal have yet to be seen.

“The purpose and intent is to start a conversation,” Arif said. “It’s not like this is the end product by any means.”

Reach Gabriella Dunn at 316-268-6400 or Follow her on Twitter: @gabriella_dunn.