Telemedicine Kiosks: The Future of Health Care?

Employers see a way to reduce lost productivity

A growing number of employers are providing insurance coverage for telemedicine services that enable employees to connect with a doctor by phone using both voice and video. One limitation of these phone-based services, however, is that physicians can’t always obtain basic vital signs, such as blood pressure and heart rate. That’s where telemedicine kiosks offer an advantage, according to Kaiser Health News.

The kiosks are outfitted with touchscreens, medical screening devices, and videoconferencing capabilities. The instrument readings, pictures, and sounds are seen and heard immediately by a doctor or nurse practitioner.

Employers and insurers see the kiosks as a pathway to delivering quality care, to reducing lost productivity due to time spent traveling and waiting for care, and to saving money by avoiding costlier visits to emergency rooms and urgent care facilities. Large health insurers, such as Anthem and UnitedHealthcare, are currently testing the kiosks at worksites where they have contracts.

Telemedicine kiosks are typically used for the same illnesses that prompt people to see a doctor or to seek urgent care—colds, sore throats, upper respiratory problems, earaches, and pink eye. Telemedicine doctors or nurse practitioners can email prescriptions to clients’ local pharmacies. Employees often pay either nothing or no more than $15 per session––far less than they would pay with insurance at a doctor’s office, at an urgent care clinic, or at an emergency room.

Officials in Kansas City, Missouri, estimate that a kiosk placed in city hall almost a year ago has saved the local government at least $28,000. That’s what Kansas City hasn’t spent because employees and dependents chose the telemedicine option instead of an in-person doctor visit. The city also estimates it has gained hundreds of productive work hours—that’s the time employees saved by not leaving work to see a doctor.

Some telemedicine kiosks, such as those made by America Well, are designed to be totally self-service for employees. They also offer users immediate access to a health care provider.

American Well has deployed approximately 200 kiosks and is in the process of rolling out 500 more, mostly to employers. The company also places kiosks in retail outlets and hospitals.

The downside is that the kiosks can cost up to $60,000 apiece, which may be too pricey for some customers. Moreover, kiosks face stiff competition from smartphones, personal computers, and tablets, which allow people to access health care anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection or cell service. Some employers already offer both kiosk and personal device options.

Source: Kaiser Health News; June 21, 2016.