Rite Aid plans to pilot special in-store kiosks where customers can video-chat with physicians about simple medical concerns, and use digital stethoscopes and other devices to measure vital signs, the company announced last week.
The pharmacy retail chain is slated to install the 40-square-foot enclosed telemedicine stations over the first quarter of 2015.
Rite Aid plans to pilot the kiosks at stores in the Akron, Cleveland and Dayton, Ohio areas; the tech start-up that builds the kiosks, HealthSpot, is based in Dublin, Ohio.
This is HealthSpot’s first partnership with a national retail pharmacy chain, the start-up’s chief executive Steve Cashman said in an interview. It has run pilots through the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic, among others.
HealthSpot generates revenue by licensing out the kiosks to clinics, usually for an initial fee of about $10,000 to $15,000, as well as a monthly maintenance fee of about $1,000.
The service was designed to treat patients with minor conditions, including colds, flus, skin conditions, earaches and allergies. Patients spend an average of 15 minutes videoconferencing with on-call physicians, and medical attendants disinfect the kiosk between visits, according to HealthSpot.
The service is covered by many insurance plans, the two companies said. It usually costs between $49 and $79 per visit.
The virtual care kiosks give patients “an alternative solution to accessing quality healthcare in a familiar, professional and convenient setting,” Robert Thompson, Rite Aid’s executive vice president of pharmacy, said in a statement.
As home-care medical devices become more commonplace, the need for these kiosks may dissipate, Cashman said. Instead of driving to a clinic, patients may soon have medical devices at home that can automatically transmit information to a physician; a growing number of patients already use their computers, smartphones and tablets to video-chat with physicians and nurses.
To stay relevant, HealthSpot has developed a software platform that runs on iPads, so that eventually patients can use the application to communicate with physicians, even if they aren’t using HealthSpot’s kiosks, Cashman said.
“We absolutely look at the long term evolution of where the consumer,” he said. “Yeah, there's a reality that [treatment] will move closer and closer to the [consumer’s home].”
Still, he said, there are some medical devices — such as wireless equipment meant to inspect a patient’s ears, nose and mouth — that may continue to be too expensive for the average consumer. Cashman said he hopes HealthSpot can continue to provide access to customers who can’t afford them.