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Self-Service Kiosks Poised To Change Health Care

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

All over the country, new self-service health care kiosks are starting to pop up. They're part of an effort by the health care industry to go where the people are. Sam Evans-Brown of New Hampshire Public Radio tells us more.

SAM EVANS-BROWN, BYLINE: If you walk into the Steeplegate Mall in Concord, New Hampshire, you'll find a bright red touch screen kiosk, sandwiched between the Bath & Body Works and a shoe store. It looks a bit like what you'd use to check in for your flight at the airport.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: If I told you that you can cure blood cancer, would you believe me? All it takes is a simple cotton swab and a few minutes of your time to register as a lifesaving bone marrow donor.

EVANS-BROWN: After a few minutes, an employee of a nearby jeweler's stand, Greg McGonagall(ph), comes over to give the kiosk a go.

GREG MCGONAGALL: Date, gender, height and weight there.

EVANS-BROWN: After about five minutes, McGonagall is registered as a potential match for a blood cancer patient in need of bone marrow. He'll get a cheek swab kit in the mail that he has to return as a DNA sample. After the first trial run of three weeks, the eight kiosks had signed up more than 200 interested users. The company expects about 60 percent of the people who signed up will return the kits.

MIKE GUGLIELMO: That machine has the capacity to save thousands of lives if we put it around the world - thousands, thousands. It's incredible.

EVANS-BROWN: Mike Guglielmo works for the nonprofit DKMS Americas, the bone marrow donor registry that's testing these kiosks. His plan is to put them all over the place and move them around so that they stay fresh and interesting to people. He thinks that with enough kiosks, DKMS could increase the number of donors they get by five and half times.

Now, health care kiosks aren't exactly a new thing. Barry Runyon has been watching the growing use of kiosks in hospital waiting rooms for the market research group Gartner for the last 10 years.

BARRY RUNYON: The prime directive of the kiosk is to improve or enhance the patient experience.

EVANS-BROWN: He says kiosks in hospitals have only recently started to take off now that the technology has become truly user friendly. And he says health care kiosks in retail spaces will only start to succeed if people like using them. Of course, there have been automated scales and blood pressure cuffs in pharmacies for years. But as technology improves, the new kiosks are a lot more sophisticated. Take the SoloHealth Station, for example, a sit-down affair that lets you do a self-service health screening in your local pharmacy while you wait to be served.

Stores pay to have the machines, which also display ads for medical products and local doctors. It takes your blood pressure, weighs you, screens your vision and asks some demographic and lifestyle questions to determine what health risks you may be running. The founder of SoloHealth, Bart Foster, is planning to put the stations in 3,000 locations nationwide over the next six months.

BART FOSTER: They can create an account, track and trend their blood pressure, track and trend their BMI, and they can access that data at any kiosk in the network, as well as on a consumer website.

EVANS-BROWN: But if that's not flashy enough, here's where Foster thinks the health care kiosk industry is going.

FOSTER: 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.

EVANS-BROWN: So that's the idea. Now, kiosk makers just have to make sure that people will use the thing. Back at the Steeplegate Mall in New Hampshire, the DKMS kiosk has won over Greg McGonagall, the newly registered bone marrow donor.

MCGONAGALL: Yeah. So the process is pretty painless. I mean, you just got to put in some info, and definitely going to let people know about it. I mean, why not? It's a good thing. It helps.

EVANS-BROWN: So keep your eyes open because self-service health care might be coming to a mall near you. For NPR News in Concord, New Hampshire, I'm Sam Evans-Brown. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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