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Tampa General, Clearwater company roll out a new virtual health station

The closet-size “office” with a life-size screen is another example of the changing face of medicine.

Clarissa Rodriguez wasn’t feeling very well at work.

So she opened the door to the OnMed Station inside the food court for Tampa General Hospital employees, and chatted with a doctor on a life-size screen.

The doctor was able to read her height, weight and body mass index. Devices inside the station gave a body temperature reading. A hand-held camera provided up-close views of her eyes, ears and skin. At the end of the virtual consultation, a doctor prescribed Rodriguez some medication, which was dispensed right there in the booth.

She picked it up as she left.

“This is much better than having to wait at a doctor’s office,” said Rodriguez, 31, who works in marketing at Tampa General on Davis Island. “I’d much rather do this than wait. I’m too busy, and this was very fast. I was in and out."

RELATED: Clearwater company OnMed reveals health station that can diagnosis patients, dispense medications

Tampa General is the first to use an OnMed health station through a new partnership with the Clearwater-based health technology company. The hospital is “piloting” the station by making its services free to use for all hospital employees.

OnMed staffs 28 certified nursing assistants, nurse practitioners and doctors at its virtual medical center in Clearwater. These health professionals answer the calls made inside the stations and are able to diagnose non-emergency health conditions, from urinary tract infections to strep throat, on a screen. The health stations can store up to 1,000 different medications, which are dispensed directly from the booth when and if prescribed by the doctor on the screen, said Austin White, president and CEO of OnMed.

White said records of the appointments are kept in a private file to comply with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA, and the station is cleaned after each use.

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OnMed isn’t the first to push telemedicine into this new space. Last year, BayCare joined with Publix to open “Walk-In Care” kiosks near the Publix pharmacy, where customers can talk remotely to a physician in a private room to address simple medical problems like a sore throat or head cold. Prescriptions can be sent immediately to the Publix pharmacy right out the door.

Tampa General CEO John Couris said he sees the OnMed appointments as a complement to the hospital’s other health care offerings, not a competitor to amenities like its telemedicine phone app.

“They are different technologies,” he said. “They offer different access points. Consumers have more options to decide how they want to see a doctor, which is the most important part.”

While the service is free for hospital employees, it’s unclear how much it could cost for public use. White previously gave a range of $65 to $75 per visit. Medications would be an additional charge. It’s also unclear how insurance companies may bill for a virtual appointment or if co-pays could be applied.

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Couris said the tentative plan is to roll out 20 OnMed health stations across Tampa Bay, which will also feature Tampa General branding. He said he can see one in Tampa International Airport, or on a college campus like the University of South Florida, maybe even at Busch Gardens.

White at OnMed said the goal is for the company to become global, and for the stations to be used in convenient locations like ports or malls. Employers could use one as a health perk at the office.

“A lot of these changes we’re seeing are being driven by a new generation," Couris said. "Millennials don’t want to wait to see a doctor in person. They’d rather get their needs addressed this way.”