Patient Kiosks Enhance Service, Open New Doors for Physicians

FEBRUARY 24, 2009

Self-service kiosks have become routine in most airline terminals. Simply insert your driver’s license or another form of ID, and everything from seat selection to the printing of a boarding pass can be handled quickly and efficiently on the touch screen. Now, these self-service kiosks are turning up in increasing number in physician offices.

“Customer service is the biggest piece of it,” says Gary Grandovic, director of the West Boca Diagnostic Imaging Center in Boca Raton, Florida. The center installed four desktop versions of the kiosk just over a year ago, and both patients and staff are pleased with the results. “The registration process for us, in terms of sitting face to face with somebody, is a 7-to 10-minute process. With the kiosk, the average time is around 2 minutes. It’s about patient flow.”

Flexible and fast
Grandovic says the center is using a system developed by Texas-based Galvanon, an NCR corporation—the same people who developed the airport kiosks. It’s very user friendly, giving patients the option of working with a mini-keyboard or a touch pen to move through the screens. Being able to register patients faster and more efficiently, says Grandovic, helps avoid backups further down the line.

“By getting patients registered in a timely fashion, you’re able to utilize all of your time slots versus having to block some time in the middle of the day as a catch up,” Grandovic says. “Rather than putting 30 minutes aside to catch up with our patient load, that 30-minute slot can be two or three patients. It’s about getting the patient back to their exam on time.”

Grandovic believes it gives the center a competitive advantage and differentiates it from other facilities. “The healthcare industry is not exactly known for its promptness. So, if what differentiates me from my competitor down the road is I get people in on time, the patients have a great experience, and the doctors get their reports in a timely fashion. That’s going to bring us more business.”

Perhaps most importantly, the kiosks have been readily accepted by patients. South Florida has a large senior population, and Grandovic says that when the kiosks were first installed, registration staff spent a little extra time teaching patients the nuances of the system. Today, more than half of the people using the kiosks are over the age of 55.

“We had some struggles early on; it’s a workflow change in terms of the internal staff,” Grandovic says. “But once we got over the hurdle, sort of re-engineered the flow, it has been a great tool for us.”

Branching out
Patient kiosks are also having an impact on the medical community beyond the four walls of a physician’s practice. For the past 8 months, American Educational Telecommunications (www.aetmedical.com) has been deploying telemedicine kiosks in pharmacies across rural areas of Nebraska. The kiosks, designed as mini-exam rooms, connect patients to family practitioners via high definition, securely encrypted video conferencing equipment inside the kiosk. Keith Vrbicky, MD, chairman and chief executive officer for AET, says the kiosks can handle about 85% of what might take place in a typical examination room.

For example, the kiosk is equipped with a stethoscope so physicians can listen to a patient’s heart and lungs, as well as a dermascope to assess rashes. “Most doctors say that with the high definition equipment they can see better than they can in their own office,” Vrbicky says. “Digital technology has come so far, the ability to zoom and the clarity and color, it’s incredible.” The fee for the “office” visit runs approximately $55.

The kiosks are deployed in pharmacies by one of two methods. A pharmacy may choose to invest in the equipment, in which case AET invites physicians to the site for a demonstration before signing on as a care provider. “Once they see the quality of the interaction, they’re usually sold on it quite readily,” says Vrbicky. Or, physician practices make the initial investment, then lease space from the pharmacy. The cost for the equipment is a one-time fee of approximately $15,000, with an annual fee of about $1,200 to maintain and upgrade the software and be part of the secure network. The return on investment, says Vrbicky, is rapid, and comes from the expanded number of patients the practice is able to see.

Patient surveys, says Vrbicky, indicate a high level of satisfaction with the kiosks. “The instrumentation is very easy to deal with. It’s no more difficult than using your hand-held device at home for your television. And the diagnostic instrumentation is no different than what is being utilized in a physician’s office. It’s really a win-win situation for both the doctors and the patients.”

Ed Rabinowitz is a veteran healthcare writer and reporter. He welcomes comments at edwardr@frontiernet.net.



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