High-need patients—or those simply looking for convenience—in Los Angeles and Orange counties can now utilize an innovative piece of medical equipment during at-home virtual medical visits that give doctors real-time data for improved telehealth care.

Last month, Long Beach Medical Center operator MemorialCare announced it was the first health provider in the region to partner with TytoCare, the developer of the industry’s first all-in-one, AI-powered modular device for remote patient visits.

About the size of a baseball, patients can use the device to measure heart rate and body temperature, which is key for treating many acute and chronic conditions, at home. The device connects to the patient’s phone via Bluetooth and information is transferred directly to the patient’s electronic medical chart.

The TytoCare device is also equipped with a camera that allows doctors to examine patients’ skin, eyes, ears and throat. Several attachments are included or can be purchased as add-ons to assist in the examination, including a blood pressure cuff, a pulse oximeter and a component that allows doctors to listen to a patient’s heartbeat and breathing.

MemorialCare already has distributed about 350 devices to select patients free of charge, said Mark Schaefer, CEO of the MemorialCare Medical Foundation. Anyone, however, can purchase the device through the hospital or third-party vendors such as Best Buy for $300.

For free devices, the health provider is prioritizing certain patients based on condition and the need for increased convenience.

“We started off with expecting moms and new families because it’s really useful for young children, especially at nighttime and on weekends,” Schaefer said. “We’re also using it for chronic conditions and patients that have difficulty with mobility.”

Patients who frequent emergency rooms because they do not have access to primary care are also candidates for a free device, Schaefer said.

TytoCare is not covered by insurance but Schaefer said MemorialCare is working on potential partnerships with multiple health plans.

To assist patients of all technological abilities, MemorialCare has created a support team of “virtual health ambassadors,” Anne LaNova, director of virtual care for the foundation, explained. Anyone who is given or purchases the TytoCare device can reach out to the team for tech support via phone, text or email.

The support team is crucial to maintain equitable access to the new technology for everyone regardless of age or other barriers, LaNova said.

Telehealth is not new but saw a drastic surge in demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with health workers recommending it to ease the burden at crowded hospitals and patients avoiding medical facilities for fear of catching the virus.

“It is here to stay,” Schaefer said of telehealth. “It’s really about convenience and access.”

To that end, MemorialCare continues to expand its virtual services, which includes a chat feature that connects patients and medical staff via AI for quick diagnosis and treatment recommendations, Schaefer said. The chat feature is not appropriate for an emergency situation but rather if a patient has questions or concerns.

Urgent care, an important component of a health system, is now also available digitally through MemorialCare 24/7, LaNova said. Patients can access the care via the company’s website or by phone without an appointment. The TytoCare device is not required for virtual urgent care visits but it would further improve the quality of care, LaNova said.

But as virtual health care continues to grow in popularity, technology must also expand with demand. Instruments such as TytoCare are crucial for providing care virtually.

“It’s an important part of the future where we have different electronic tools for patients so they can access care,” Schaefer said. “Like when you do banking: you may do it from your phone, you may go to a drive-thru, maybe the ATM or you may actually walk into the bank. We want health care to be the same.”