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Are mHealth Kiosks Making a Comeback?

The VA and a Washington-based health system are testing mHealth kiosks, and a new company is touting its self-enclosed clinic as an alternative to the urgent care center.

By Eric Wicklund

- mHealth enthusiasts take note: The kiosk isn’t dead yet.

While HealthSpot’s assets – including hundreds of the bankrupt company’s room-sized kiosks – were disposed of in an online auction over the Memorial Day weekend, smaller versions of the self-serve booths are showing up in health systems across the nation.

The Veterans Administration is using kiosks in rural parts of the country as an alternative to new clinics or VA hospitals, former U.S. secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake, MD LTG (Ret.) said during the recent American Telemedicine Association conference in Minneapolis. In Washington, the 48-hospital CHI Franciscan Health system has just launched a “virtual urgent care concierge program,” using kiosks to help sort through the mix of high- and low-acuity patients at its clinics and EDs.

Long-established companies like American Well and NEC still tout strong kiosk programs, and Bethesda, Md.-based Medex Spot is getting ready to test its “unmanned micro clinics” in a national supermarket chain through a partnership with a regional health system.

“We’ve carved out the unmanned kiosk as a space that would be unique for us,” says Charles Nahabedian, the company’s CEO.

Nahabedian, a 40-year veteran of the telecom industry who helped design the interactive touchscreen kiosks at Disney World’s EPCOT Center, is pitching a smaller, more focused, less expensive kiosk – called the Medex Spot Cabin – than the HealthSpot version. The five-year-old company, which now includes former employees of HealthSpot and Solo Health, is marketing an enclosed space about twice as large as a phone booth, designed for supermarkets, pharmacy chains, senior housing centers, schools, large businesses, truck stops, oil rigs, mining sites – any rural location, Nahabedian says, where quick and inexpensive care would save a trip to the hospital or doctor’s office.

Medex Spot Cabins are self-contained, with no need for an on-site concierge or nurse to guide the patient. A consumer needs only to step inside, sit down and begin a video conversation with a nurse practitioner (via satellite link) at a call center managed by a local or regional healthcare provider. Each booth is equipped with a blood pressure cuff, blood-glucose monitor, EKG monitor, temporal thermometer and stethoscope, and Nahabedian expects to add more wireless devices and mobile apps in time.

Nahabedian expects health systems can run the kiosks in remote locations, using their NPs to connect with patients, and break even at about five or six patients per kiosk per day, which he says is far less expensive and resource-intensive than urgent care clinics that require staff on site.

“This is going to be cheaper and more efficient for ambulatory patients who want to just go someplace and get checked out,” says Nahabedian. “There’s a real need there for this kind of quick and easy … healthcare.”

At CHI Franciscan Health, meanwhile, executives say their new kiosk program basically happened by accident.

Lana Adzhigirey, RN, MN, CPHQ, CHI Franciscan’s program manager for care transformation at the system’s Virtual Health Services department in Tacoma, said the health system has used kiosks for patient education. Recognizing that some 70 percent of Franciscan Virtual Urgent Care patients have their issues resolved in just one visit, officials decided to test an open kiosk in that setting, where incoming patients might be dealing with a cough or a cardiac incident.

“This wasn’t something we had planned on,” she said during a presentation at the ATA conference in Minneapolis. The idea, she said, was to create a quiet space where patients to sit down, have a virtual visit with a clinician, and perhaps have an issue resolved rather than wait in a crowded waiting room or clinic.

Adzhigirey noted that urgent care clinics aren’t always efficient because the consumer with the cough might be sitting right next to the person veering into a heart attack, with the former delaying access to care for the latter. A kiosk system could separate the patients requiring less urgent care, giving those with more urgent needs quicker access to care.

Dig Deeper:

HealthSpot’s Demise Could Spell the End of Telemedicine Kiosks

Digital Health Tools Take the ‘Waiting’ Out of the Waiting Room

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