This blog first appeared as Steve Wunker's piece for Forbes
By Steve Wunker
Healthcare kiosks call to mind the dusty automated blood pressure machines that have sat quietly in drug stores for years. But the new generation of these devices offers a radically different experience -- one that can have a big impact on the practice of medicine and healthcare marketing -- if companies don’t drop the ball.
The new kiosks don’t just check blood pressure. They capture weight, height, and demographic data such as age. The kiosks can even test vision and connect into a live videoconference with a physician who, teamed with a medical assistant on-site, can use a stethoscope, otoscope, dermascope, and other diagnostic equipment. Moreover, they can quiz patients about symptoms, help them assess whether they can be treated by an over-the-counter medication, and prompt them to consult physicians about particular issues. Perhaps most critically, they can link into continuing follow-up programs that engage users via e-mail and other media over the long-term, not just during irregular kiosk visits.
Why are they exciting?
1. Reaching the invisible -- Healthcare kiosks have the potential to reach people who may be undiagnosed, unmotivated, or not yet sick enough to warrant costly at-home equipment. In contrast to remote monitoring devices such as Bluetooth-enabled spirometers, kiosks may engage people who are bored, curious, or not yet worried enough to see a physician.
2. Simple call to action -- Home monitoring often struggles because people can’t directly translate a reading into an action. Conversely, kiosks may direct a patient to a medication available in the next aisle, or they may connect a user directly to a healthcare professional via video link. Kiosks do a poor job of inducing people to make big lifestyle shifts, but they can be quite effective in making a simple action happen in the next five minutes.
3. New revenue stream -- Because the kiosks can provide such a direct call to action, the potential for advertising creates a revenue stream that home monitoring and telemedicine lack. Indeed, advertising is how kiosk vendors such as Higi and SoloHealth aim to make much of their money. The advertising needs to be responsible, of course, but there is ample opportunity to direct people to valid therapies without hawking dodgy supplements and other forms of snake oil.
4. Targeted marketing -- The old saying about advertising is that half of ad money is wasted, but we just don’t know which half. In healthcare, wasting only half of marketing spend would be a vast improvement. Marketers struggle to reach pertinent consumers because medical conditions typically afflict only slivers of the population. Kiosks can help to change the equation with highly targeted audiences and the potential to build up profiles for users who can then watch highly targeted messages while checking their vitals.
5. Asymmetric competition -- Disruptive innovations start off the competitive radar screen, but they gather momentum and end up having profound effects on industries. Kiosks are certainly not new -- the old-school analogue blood pressure machines rack up a surprisingly high 70 million people annually in the U.S. -- but they have not been targeted by big players in the healthcare industry. New entrants can grasp the opportunity for what it is, rather than try to shoehorn it into existing business models. They can be Redbox to Blockbuster. Intermediaries in the kiosk space can create powerful market positions given factors such as the growing shortage of primary care physicians, the propensity of younger consumers to prefer virtual over live interactions, the desire of pharmacies to drive traffic to their retail clinics, and the imperative for grocers to improve high-margin drug sales. Early mover advantages include consumer demand, a hard-to-dislodge position in valuable real estate, custodianship over health records, and consumers’ desire for familiar interfaces. Late entrants face considerable barriers in this space.
In response to these exciting developments, many healthcare firms are doing…nothing. This is a shame. Health systems could leverage kiosks to connect people to healthcare professionals who can recommend treatments, prescribe medications, and cajole users into taking longer-term action. Life science firms can target marketing messages and integrate kiosks into campaigns to boost diagnosis rates. Consumer electronics firms can boldly push frontiers -- Samsung already makes smartphones and small in vitro diagnostic machines, so how about starting to integrate the two?
For their part, kiosk vendors need to pay as much attention to back-end integration and ongoing engagement as to front-end kiosk placement and experience. They need to resolve whether they will emphasize monitoring known chronic conditions or diagnosing patients unaware of their status. They will need to keep their experience straightforward and their proposition understandable, as that is how disruptive innovations propagate quickly. Perhaps most critically, they will need to figure out their business model -- ad-supported or otherwise -- and align users’ experiences around it. Others in the healthcare ecosystem can influence that business model choice, although they will need to get busy if they are going to alter the trajectory of a fast-moving market space.
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