CLEARWATER — It's the typical doctor's visit: Patient confers with a physician or nurse. Patient gets medication.
On Tuesday, this transaction didn't take place in a doctor's office or clinic, but in a medical kiosk.
OnMed, a Clearwater company, unveiled the first station that links patients with a doctor or nurse via teleconferencing and then provides the medication. It's big enough to serve as a secure exam room. It could fit at an airport, post office, college campus or company headquarters.
The first one of its kind is set to open in Mississippi next month. OnMed, which has been developing its technology for seven years, hopes to see two more stations in Florida later this year, said the company's CEO, Austin White.
Depending on location, a typical visit could cost between $65-$75, White said. Employers who host a station could allow employees to visit free of charge. Colleges might choose to build the cost of a station visit into tuition. If a patient has insurance, that co-pay could be applied to the cost. Any medications dispensed on site would have a separate charge.
"We're talking less than half of the cost of a walk-in clinic," White said.
People have been able to connect with a doctor over their laptop, tablet or smart phone for years. OnMed seeks to go beyond that consultation by providing prescribed medication on the spot and also being able to take vitals — such as blood pressure, temperature and weight — and use a high definition camera to inspect the patient's body before making a diagnosis.
"These are really like exam rooms," said Dr. Kristi Henderson, formerly of Ascension Healthcare. "Now this one provider can beam into any room and provide the care they need."
Henderson, who is described as a leader in telemedicine since its conception, said she has watched the field develop for years.
"When I would first go talk to people, the concept was on the verge of insanity," Henderson said.
Since then, changes in policy and technology have helped expand the telemedicine industry with the goal of making health care more accessible for all. While previous developments in the field made it easier for people in rural communities or those on the go to connect with a doctor, they still required the additional location to pick up medication. OnMed sought to eliminate that extra step with its stations.
"We have to make health care more convenient, it has to be more affordable and it has to create an experience that people want," Henderson said. "An innovation is not a solution if it doesn't solve a real problem that we actually want fixed."
People who want to use the medical station enter after a clear door indicates the exam room is empty. Upon entering and hitting "start," the room locks and the glass darkens to ensure privacy. The person is connected with any combination of licensed nurses, doctors, and pharmacists.
Visits are expected to take less than 15 minutes on average, but there is no time limit. People can transfer their data from the visit to their primary care doctor.
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"We're not looking to take over the primary care role," White said. "We're trying to take over the instantaneous, non-life threatening urgent care role."
Patients can pay for their visit with credit cards, cash and most major insurance plans. Those who qualify can also be enrolled in Medicaid on the spot, White said.
The stations are monitored by cameras at all times, both inside and outside of the unit. The drug dispensary, which is attached to the patient room, also has audio and video recording that logs each time an employee uses their thumbprint to restock or clean the unit.
As for when people in Florida might be able to use a station, White's response was brief: "Soon."
Contact Caitlin Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.