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Telehealth, kiosks are proving importance in future of U.S. health care

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — Big news for SoloHealth as the number of consumer interactions made at its health-and-wellness kiosks surpassed 2.5 million while the company works toward its goal of 2,500 retail kiosks by mid-2013. But it is perhaps even bigger news for the future of the overall U.S. healthcare system.

(THE NEWS: SoloHealth surpasses 2.5 million consumer interactions. For the full story, click here.)

Why? Because the reality is that telehealth and kiosks will become an increasingly important part of the future of health care, helping to expand Rx-to-OTC switch possibilities and helping to expand access to primary care by connecting patients, physicians, pharmacists and technology.

Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration held a public meeting on ways to expand the Rx-to-OTC switch paradigm by utilizing the latest in communications and diagnostics technology and/or incorporating the retail pharmacist into the self-care decision protocol.

SoloHealth — which recently announced strategic investments and partnerships with WellPoint and Dell — was one of the companies invited to testify before the FDA's public meeting on the switch paradigm as the kiosks could help to drive awareness around a particular condition or remedy, help educate the consumer and spark action. In fact, Bart Foster, SoloHealth CEO, said the kiosk is "precisely in the sweet spot of what the FDA is trying to do."

Then there's the important role that telehealth can play in expanding access to primary care by connecting patients, physicians, pharmacists and technology. In fact, the importance of telehealth in improving access to care is already playing out.

For example, convenient care industry pioneer Kevin Smith embarked on a new journey in 2010 to further revolutionize access to health care with Zipnosis.com. How it works: The patient logs onto the Zipnosis site, answers a set of questions that mimic those that a healthcare provider would ask the patient and, based on the responses, goes to the next appropriate question. Once the patient completes the evaluation, a healthcare professional — a physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant — receives a text message and the patient receives a response within an hour with a recommendation.

The services offered by Zipnosis are limited to such minor, acute ailments as sinus infections, sore throats and bladder infections. Each "visit" is a flat fee of $25 paid via credit card or HSA/Health Savings Card.

Furthermore, Rite Aid has partnered with OptumHealth to provide "virtual clinics" through the launch of NowClinic online care services at select stores in the Detroit area. The program is designed to allow Rite Aid customers to interact in real time with doctors and OptumHealth nurses. Rite Aid has indicated that the program has gained traction and it is considering expanding it.

To be sure, many other companies are getting into the telehealth space. These are just a few  examples, and there's no doubt that the future opportunities for both kiosks and telehealth are significant. Yes, SoloHealth's announcement that consumer interactions made at it health-and-wellness kiosks have surpassed 2.5 million is important but it is really just the tip of the iceberg.

What are your thoughts? Sound off in the comments below.

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