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Rise of retail health kiosks enables greater patient engagement

Retailers such as Walmart are beginning to offer self-service health kiosks that allow patients to check their vital signs while doing their shopping.

More retailers are introducing health kiosks in their stores to help promote healthier lifestyles and add convenience for their customers by allowing them to check their vitals while doing their shopping. This rise in self-service health kiosks indicates more patients are willing to spend a few minutes checking their blood pressure and body mass index in order to keep track of their stats. When combined with a mobile app, these kiosks encourage more patient-generated data.

For years, patients have typically waited until their doctor's visit to get their vitals checked and documented. The data collected during the first few minutes of the visit is typically locked in the chart and is either never seen by the patient, or it's extracted as a PDF or nonstandardized format. Unfortunately for patients who want to collect and manage their own data, their visit to some doctors does not mean that new data will be added to their personal health record.

Patients with chronic illnesses who need to frequently monitor their blood pressure, pulse and weight have traditionally resorted to purchasing their own devices to capture their vitals at home. For others, having the devices at home is either too costly or too complex. That subset of the population has typically resorted to either a local pharmacy or their next doctor's visit to get their vitals checked. Fortunately, more retailers are recognizing the desire and willingness of some patients to use a self-service health kiosk to check their vitals. 

When the large retail chain Sam's Club announced its rollout of self-service health kiosks in its stores with pharmacies, shoppers in those locations were offered free vitals checks that capture everything from body mass index to pulse, blood pressure and weight. Not only does that increase foot traffic for the retailers to win over more customers, but it also increases visibility for their pharmacy services. Sam's Club partnered with Chicago-based higi for its kiosk. The platform not only offers vital readings, but it also has the ability to integrate with other health devices and activity trackers.

The early success of these self-service health kiosks, as well as the increased costs of healthcare, is opening the door for a new wave of low-cost and convenient health screenings. Walmart is set to roll out SoloHealth stations in its stores and Sam's Club to offer video consultations with physicians, as well as the traditional vitals tracking. These new services come with their own mobile app that allows shoppers to view their progress and visit information from their smartphones.

The convenience of being able to see a physician anytime a patient visits their local retailer is appealing to many, and it would reduce the long wait times or appointments needed for a routine doctor's visit. 

Some of the concerns people have with the increase of these health kiosks is around their revenue model and how the retailers' motives are ultimately to increase foot traffic to their aisles and pharmacy. Some kiosks even display ads on the screen. Despite those concerns, the convenience that patients will have, lower costs per visit and tracking their health data on their phone is justified. However, physicians and hospitals continue to raise concerns around privacy and remotely diagnosing patients. As time progresses, it will be an area of healthcare that will be closely watched.

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