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A new telemedicine program is underway in Pittsburgh, and it could prove more comprehensive than at-home visits.
A major Pennsylvania health system and insurer already provides “AnywhereCare” to anyone with an internet connection, but its newest venture is designed to offer telemedicine services to patients who come to a very specific place: the grocery store.
Pittsburgh-based UPMC has partnered with Giant Eagle, western Pennsylvania’s largest grocery store chain, to place telemedicine kiosks in three grocery stores. UPMC, of course, is the nationally recognized healthcare organization affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh’s Schools of the Health Sciences.
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The kiosks offer the same services as an at-home telemedicine visit. However, they also provide a range of other tools that allow providers to better assess patients. Those items include blood pressure cuffs, thermometers, pulse oximeters and otoscopes.
Natasa Sokolovich, J.D., MSHCPM, executive director of telehealth for UPMC, said the peripheral devices make the kiosks unique.
“Having the Giant Eagle kiosks available at the retail store locations provides another consumer-facing access point and extends additional clinical biometric capturing tools that provide the clinician with diagnostic capabilities that extend beyond a conversation with the patient,” she told Healthcare Analytics News™.
UPMC has been aggressive in its telemedicine offerings. The healthcare organization has been offering telehealth services for more than a decade, and it even launched a separate startup, Curavi Health, to provide telemedicine services in nursing homes.
The new grocery store kiosks will be located near the stores’ pharmacies. That means that, in addition to the excess tools, patients who access telemedicine services at the kiosks can get hands-on assistance from pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.
“We believe convenient access to medical care is lacking in certain geographical areas and are hoping that by piloting these services in our stores, our communities will receive the care they need at their convenience, including nights and weekends,” said Adam Zakin, RPh, senior director of new business development at Giant Eagle Pharmacy, in a press release.
Sokolovich said even as UPMC has expanded telemedicine services, one group in particular seems to be the leading adopter of the technology.
“The demographics for our UPMC AnywhereCare direct-to-consumer application via smartphone, tablet or desktop computer is still predominantly female and ages 25 to 47,” she said.
The new kiosks could be especially helpful for parents, who may bring in a child and use the otoscope to allow the provider to visually verify an ear infection, rather than simply describing it, as in a traditional telemedicine setting.
Sokolovich said the AnywhereCare program has a dedicated team of providers — in this case nurse practitioners — who handle the daytime telemedicine visits. Overnight, UPMC physicians are available as backup.
“This model supports having providers who are trained, experienced and comfortable facilitating virtual visits to ensure high-quality care delivery.”
However, unlike the health system’s primary web-based telemedicine program, the grocery store kiosks will be open only during regular pharmacy hours.
The visits are available for anyone. While prices vary based on insurance, the maximum cost of a virtual visit via the kiosks will be $49.
The three initial kiosks are already operational. If the program is successful, UPMC and Giant Eagle said they will expand the program to other stores.
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