In my past five years as a parent, I’ve called the doctor more times than I have in the 30 years before. No one wants to drag a sick kid to the doctor’s office. And if you’ve ever spent a significant amount of time trying to decide if barf is more green or yellow, you already know that a doctor’s ability to help over the phone is somewhat limited.
Institutions like Kaiser Permanente and the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs have integrated telehealth services into their programs. It’s now relatively easy for patients to schedule appointments online or set up a video appointment with a therapist.
But most diagnostic tests still require clinical skills to administer. The TytoCare TytoHome doesn’t. It’s the first commercially available audiovisual in-home diagnostic kit with which a patient can conduct the examination on their own, without a provider.
The goal of telehealth is to reduce the number of in-person visits—which, not coincidentally, is one of my goals as well. I would be happy if I never had to take an obstreperous toddler to the doctor ever again. The TytoHome makes it easy. Soon, at-home diagnostic kits will be as standard an item in your medicine cabinet as a thermometer.
The Tyto device is a small, square device that is three inches on each side and two inches deep, and sits with a satisfying weight in the palm of your hand. It has a small LED screen on the front, a digital thermometer, camera, lights on the back, and a bewildering array of ports on the bottom. Just so it doesn’t take you as long to figure out as it did me, it charges via the 5-volt 2A port, not the MicroUSB.
On the back, the Tyto device has a proprietary ring connector that can attach a series of adapters: a plastic otoscope (tiny plastic ear trumpet) for examining your ears; a stethoscope for listening to your heartbeat and lungs; and a tongue depressor to look at your throat. It also comes with replacement otoscope and adapter heads, and the instructions note that you should clean all equipment before use by wiping it with 70 percent isopropyl alcohol.
Before you can use the Tyto device, you need to download the TytoCare app (Android, iOS), log in, and set up a patient profile. Mitul Vyas, TytoCare’s director of product technical services, sat in as a demo doctor and shared his screen with me as I underwent the process on my end and selected a few (bogus) symptoms.
Once I requested an online appointment, Vyas appeared in the app as my doctor and requested control of the Tyto device. Under his direction, I held the Tyto to my forehead to take my temperature. Then I placed the stethoscope attachment on the device. The app showed a torso map of four areas to place the stethoscope, to check my heartbeat and the sound of my lungs.
Once Vyas had assessed my “symptoms”, I watched on his screen as he summarized his findings and sent them back to me. From both of our perspectives, the appointment was simple and convenient, and notably without a commute time or time wasted in a waiting room.
To make the exam even more convenient, you can either do as I did and schedule a virtual appointment or record yourself taking a guided exam to send to your doctor for review later.
“Our executive sponsors are physicians,” says David Bardan, TytoCare’s vice president of enterprise solutions. “It gives providers the flexibility to practice to some extent at home, where traditionally they’d need to be in a clinical setting.”
The Tyto’s thermometer gave results similar to my at-home Braun ear thermometer (a reassuring 97.4, in case you were interested), but unlike the Braun, it has been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration, meeting requirements with results verified by a double-blind, peer-reviewed study at the University of Virginia’s medical school. It concluded that the Tyto device provided a high-enough sound and image quality to make a reliable diagnosis.
I would be extremely remiss if I didn’t point out that a device that can reliably assess a patient’s vital signs in a remote exam would be very helpful for providers dealing with a surge of Covid-19 cases.
The chief medical officer at Sheba Medical Center in Israel, Eyal Zimlichman, asserted over email that the two main criteria for monitoring patients in quarantine are lung function and fever, both of which can be easily assessed with the Tyto device. It’s geared toward families, but as Vyas demonstrated with me, it can be used with both children and adults.
TytoCare has been unrolling the product over the course of several years. The firm works with more than 65 hospitals and is partnering with employers (which are unannounced, so far). But the device’s utility is hampered by the byzantine, frustrating structure of the US health care system. How do you get one? Well, you can buy it online for $300 and pay up to $59 for a one-time visit, which may or may not be covered by your insurance.
It’s also available through LifeHealthOnline, powered by American Well, and through major regional providers. For example, if you live in Louisiana or Mississippi, the company has partnered with Ochsner Health, while in North and South Dakota with Sanford Health. I first saw TytoCare at CES in 2019 and have wanted one ever since. Unfortunately, neither my insurance nor my pediatrician works with the device. (I will be sending them both this review shortly.)
“No one was anticipating the kinds of demands we’re seeing today,” Bardan says in a very restrained understatement. But a simple, reliable telehealth device like the Tyto could very well ease the strain on what will shortly be our overburdened health care system.
It can’t administer a coronavirus test remotely. But it may buy your sick loved one, as well as your overworked doctor, just a little bit of much-needed time.