- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Patients of Prince William Hospital in Manassas soon will be able to swipe identification cards through a machine, sign consent forms and submit co-payments — all without visiting front-desk workers and dealing with a clipboard of papers.

MediKiosks for self-service check-in will be available starting in September. Sales of the machines have grown 200 percent every year since manufacturer Galvanon put them on the market in 2003, said Raj Toleti, president of the Maitland, Fla., NCR subsidiary.

The kiosks reduce registration wait time and human error and save money on paper documents and staff time, hospital administrators say.

“The bottom line for the whole project is that it really meets the needs for the patient. If we can ultimately do it quicker and upfront, it will save the patient some time,” said George Semko, director of the Revenue Cycle at Prince William Hospital.

“It’s also a paperless system. And we’re guaranteed we’re accessing the right patient. It’s getting us quicker access to patient data and keeping things electronic — versus sending a letter in the mail or fax. It’s the whole nine yards.”

Although five MediKiosks will be in the waiting rooms, Mr. Semko said, patients still will be able to check in at the front desk of Prince William Hospital. Front-desk clerks, who are not nurses, will concentrate more on patient financial counseling and scheduling, he said.

If the pilot program succeeds, it may be expanded to other departments, he said.

Much like the self-service machines at grocery stores and airports, MediKiosks are self-guided, Galvanon officials say. They are available in hand-held form, desktop computer size and free-standing models that look similar to hotel lobby kiosks.

Some models recognize patients by their thumbprint or the swipe of an identification card. Patients can use the machines to confirm and schedule appointments, read and electronically sign consent forms, look up and pay balances by credit card, and find directions to hospital rooms.

Patients also can submit their medical history, which is stored in a secured database accessible only to the hospital, Mr. Toleti said.

Still, electronic health records worry Dr. Deborah Peel, founder of Patient Privacy Rights, a nonprofit consumer watchdog group in Austin, Texas. Patient information is more likely to fall into the wrong hands when it is stored in electronic databases, she said.

“The problem is that information about you in an electronic database can be so easily shared,” said Dr. Peel, who has practiced medicine for the past 27 years. “It’s hard to know who has access to that database at the other end.”

The kiosks carry the same threat as other public machines do, said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington public interest research group. He said one risk is that private information could be left on the screen.

The kiosks carry a hefty price tag: $3,000 to $5,000 each. Depending on the number and types of units, the software, installation and support can range from $10,000 to more than $1 million, Mr. Toleti said.

Dr. Simeon A. Schwartz said he received a quick return on his investment after he bought about 40 kiosks for a total of $200,000. He saved $600,000 a year by cutting 12 to 15 staff positions at his White Plains, N.Y., clinic, he said.

“The patients are very happy. Their perspective is, ‘We used to have long lines of waiting.’ Their check-in time now takes 20 seconds,” said Dr. Schwartz, who is president of the Westchester Medical Group.

Patient check-in kiosks are available at only 1 percent of hospitals and large clinics in the United States, said John Lovelock, a kiosk-industry analyst for Gartner Inc.

“It’s probably the juicier of the low-hanging fruit for a health care provider. It will show itself as a useful technology, but we won’t see an explosive growth [in usage] until about two years,” Mr. Lovelock said.

Galvanon is the primary manufacturer of the machines because it has the technical experience to integrate a hospital’s software with the devices, unlike the few others that are entering the industry. Older manufacturers also may not have the resources or knowledge to do so, he said.

“Our check-in system exists with the box as a stand-alone technology,” said Bryce Agnew, president of FutureTouch Technology in Cerritos, Calif., which has been producing the machines since 2000. “We get calls all the time, but it’s slow for [hospitals] to make the decision to try it.”

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