Who would have thought the 21st century would bring with it the return of doctors making house calls?

That is essentially what is coming to Elko, and it is benefitting the people who need it the most.

Highland Manor recently announced the arrival of a mobile diagnostic system that nurses can wheel into rooms, giving physicians anywhere the ability to pay personal visits to patients.

“Imagine coming down with pneumonia and being treated by a doctor who is more than a hundred miles away but can hear your heartbeat, see down your throat, and inspect an unusual skin rash noticed during the examination,” wrote Elko Daily staff writer Toni Milano after visiting Highland.

The CuraviCart is a new tool is but the technology behind it has been around for some time. Like other recent developments – such as consumer drones and self-driving cars – this telemedicine system is more the product of technological refinement and application than it is a new invention. It’s based on a “Situation Background Assessment Recommendation tool” that was initially developed for nuclear submarines 20 years ago, explained Dr. Steven Phillips of Geriatric Specialty Care of Reno.

Curavi Health is an outgrowth of a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center project that won an innovation award from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2012. The idea was to improve the quality of care for people residing in long-term care facilities by reducing avoidable hospitalizations. It succeeded by adapting telemedicine and information technologies to its CuraviCart (“curavi” is a Latin verb meaning “to care for.”)

Senior citizens need a greater amount of health care but many are on fixed incomes and housed in care facilities. The CurviCart can reduce the cost of connecting them with medical professionals without any loss of quality that might have occurred with more primitive equipment.

The proprietary video platform software uses a stationary camera, screen, microphone, portable camera and otoscope camera for viewing ears, nose and throat. A Bluetooth-connected stethoscope allows the doctor to hear heart, lung and abdominal sounds. An electrocardiogram attached to the unit can send heart rates and rhythms to the doctor for further analysis.

The result is a real-time exam that can serve virtually the same purpose as an office visit – or a house call, something that readers younger than 50 probably have never heard about.

It’s good to see technology being used for such a noble purpose in nursing homes. So often the latest gadgets find their niche in the lucrative home entertainment market before being used in more practical applications.

Now, instead of calling for an ambulance or other transport to a medical facility, nurses will be able to connect Manor residents with a doctor right on the premises. Phillips told our newspaper that about 80 percent of nursing home transfers are for symptoms of pneumonia, congestive heart failure, COPD/asthma, skin infections, and other ailments that can be diagnosed through the virtual physician.

Highland expects the console to see much use during off-hours, evenings and weekends.

With Elko’s shortage of Medicare providers and our distance from cities that have much lower patient ratios, the use of telemedicine in places like nursing homes and outpatient veteran care centers makes good sense.

We expect this kind of technology to continue to improve along with advancements in artificial intelligence. For example, a United Kingdom startup called Babylon Health has launched a digital healthcare app that uses AI in conjunction with video and text consultations with real doctors and specialists.

“AI is now disrupting how businesses operate and will change the way that organizations create real value for the customer or patient,” Dr. Joseph Reger told Forbes magazine.

Before long, patients might be able to get a medical diagnosis for their symptoms in between rounds of Candy Crush. Such a development would turn a lot of sad emojis into happy faces.

Members of the Elko Daily Free Press editorial board area Travis Quast, Jeffry Mullins and Suzanne Featherston.