Health Care Jetsons Style

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Forget ATMs. There’s a new kiosk in town, dispensing another item of great value: health information to those without access to care.

Computerized Screening Inc. (CSI) the Nevada-based company that brought blood pressure cuffs to your local drugstore, now plans to place its stand-alone health stations, which provide non-invasive screenings of heart rate, body mass index, and blood pressure, in health centers, offices, and shelters in New York.

Clients are able to develop their own confidential health history at the machines, and download information about the causes of disease. More important, they can make appointments at local clinics using the phone that’s connected to the system, providing a direct link to care.

So far, these units have shown an impressive dexterity. They’ve been used to provide remote-access medical care for rural tribes in Alaska, creating a teleconferencing link for physicians to monitor symptoms of diabetes and obesity within the tribe. Because the kiosks provide health information in their native language and transmit the test results to clinics more than 600 miles away, doctors no longer have to travel by dogsled to provide treatment.

And in the wilds of Los Angeles, they’ve had a growing presence in the neighborhood known as Skid Row, where six terminals were used over 12,000 times in a year and a half, often by the company’s target customers: the homeless, those suffering with HIV/AIDS, and substance abusers.

There are currently three kiosks on trial in New York City, on loan from CSI and located at Health People in the Bronx, Steinway Medical Center in Long Island City, and at the visitors’ center at Rikers Island. CSI is negotiating with the Department of Health about placing more units throughout the city.

“People are very comfortable using them,” says Chris Norwood, executive director of Health People, who refers to the stations as “health ATM’s.” Norwood sees vast possibilities for the terminals, since they can be programmed to provide specific health information on clinical trials, public meetings, and the locations of health facilities within the areas they serve. “Many of our clients don’t have the internet,” she notes. The machines can also be set up to print out receipts when appointments are made, which can in turn redeemed at clinics for bus tokens, sanitary kits, or other incentives.

The machines, which cost between $9,000-$15,000 apiece, are being marketed as a low cost alternative to expensive emergency care. “We’re focusing on using primary care rather than emergency rooms,” says Bill Sullivan, Executive Vice President of CSI. The Department of Health could not yet say whether it intended to buy them.

Jill Rotenburg, Program Director at the John Wesley County Hospital Institute in Los Angeles, studied the effectiveness of the units and found that nearly 80 percent of the clients said they would use the stations again. Although some of her colleagues feared that the ATMs could undermine the doctor/patient relationship, says Rotenburg, it’s actually the opposite. “It’s a conduit to get connected to a provider,” she says, crediting the machines with an increase in clinic visits. “Some of our clients haven’t seen a doctor in months or years.”