Self-service playing bigger role in health care (video)

Travelers use kiosks that dispense boarding passes at airports.

Shoppers can check themselves out of a grocery store by swiping and paying through a machine.

Self-service kiosks are increasingly being used in all types of industries. In health care, for instance, consumers can check their blood pressure at stations located in many retail pharmacies.

Now, kiosks with various health care uses are being installed in retail and health care settings. SoloHealth, based in the Atlanta suburb of Johns Creek, is a tech company that appears at the forefront of this trend.

SoloHealth kiosks allow consumers to check their vision, blood pressure, weight, and body mass index. The interactive, touch-screen stations also offer a symptom checker as well as an overall health assessment, and can connect a person to local health professionals. It’s all free to the consumer.

“We’re able to reach consumers where they are,’’ Bart Foster, CEO of SoloHealth, told GHN on Monday. “We’re creating a platform around health care and wellness.’’

Last Friday, SoloHealth announced it had formed a strategic partnership with health insurance giant WellPoint.

The SoloHealth kiosks are currently in about 300 retail outlets, including Walmart and Sam’s Club stores in Georgia, Ohio and Missouri. Revenues come from stores paying to have the machines, and from physicians and companies paying for advertising and sponsorships.

The kiosks reflect the push toward getting more health information in the hands of consumers. Online, patients can check the quality of a hospital or nursing home through an HHS website. Insurers such as Aetna, WellPoint and UnitedHealthcare are providing online data on pricing and quality for their members who are awaiting a procedure or looking for a physician.

In addition, health care and retail have merged in other ways, including walk-in clinics in groceries, drugstores and stores such as Walmart and Target.

The partnership between WellPoint and SoloHealth will help people better understand their own health conditions, Brett Moraski, vice president of transformation for WellPoint, told GHN.

“Consumers are being naturally drawn to managing their own health.’’ Moraski said. “Consumers want more information –- they’ve been going online for it.’’

WellPoint did not disclose the amount of its investment in SoloHealth. The Indiana-based insurer, the parent company of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, sees it as a potential aid for marketing its brand.

Foster of SoloHealth envisions the company’s kiosks installed in hospitals and various workplaces. “This is only the beginning,’’ he said. Future applications can be developed for enrolling people in clinical trials and in health insurance exchanges, he said.

He told NPR recently, “There are very expensive pieces of equipment that are sitting in a hospital that could easily be automated. So you could put a retinal camera in a device that would take a picture of the back of your eye and within three seconds, a team of ophthalmologists can assess cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration. That can be done.’’

By enabling consumers to monitor their own medical conditions, SoloHealth’s devices can help identify problems early and keep people out of crowded hospitals and doctors’ offices, William Longley, CEO of Scientific Intake Limited, a medical device maker, told the Atlanta Business Chronicle last year.

“It lightens the load on the whole health care system if the patient can do some of this work on their own,” Longley said in the Business Chronicle article.

The kiosk will not replace an examination by a medical professional, SoloHealth points out on its website.

But the self-service trend can trim health care costs, Foster said — by removing the need for a staff person to take a patient’s blood pressure, for instance.

The SoloHealth station recently received FDA clearance. Foster said “a few thousand’’ SoloHealth kiosks could be deployed in a year’s time.

“This is only the beginning,’’ he said. “Self-service health care is in its infancy.’’

The following video is courtesy of WellPoint and SoloHealth.