Getting a same-day doctor’s appointment in cold and flu season can be challenging for those with even the best medical plans. But employees of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, have a convenient new option at their disposal — workplace virtual health care.

The county’s Justice Center is now home to HealthSpot, a kiosk that enables county employees to be examined face-to-face by a physician through video conferencing. The kiosk contains a blood pressure cuff, thermometer and stethoscope that can be self-administered with instructions from the doctor. Results from the instruments are then transmitted in real time so a diagnosis can be made.

HealthSpot was launched on Sept. 25 through a partnership between Cuyahoga County and MetroHealth, one of northeast Ohio’s health-care providers. Although the kiosk is located in the Justice Center, all county employees may use it, and visits are free. HealthSpot is open Monday through Friday, from 12 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., and the program is sponsored by MetroHealth.

The kiosk is physically staffed by one MetroHealth medical assistant who cleans and maintains the equipment. The HealthSpot only takes walk-in visits and is meant for minor illnesses such as colds, earaches, and sinus infections. Patients meet virtually with a MetroHealth doctor or nurse practitioner, depending on availability.

Elise Hara, director of human resources for Cuyahoga County, said one problematic issue the county has is excessive use of sick time by employees. Oftentimes, workers go home sick one day and then are out subsequent days waiting for a doctor’s appointment or to get a prescription for whatever was ailing them.

That problem should be helped by the availability of HealthSpot, as the doctor can make a diagnosis virtually and send in a prescription to the employee’s pharmacy online.

“We’re talking about a visit that might last 20 minutes onsite, versus someone who has to get in their car, take at least two or three hours of sick time, maybe a half-day and lose productivity for the county,” Hara said.

Development

The HealthSpot began as an idea to have an onsite pharmacy located in the Justice Center. But after speaking with consultant Employee Benefits International and subsequent discussions with MetroHealth, the county decided to expand that to virtual medical care. It took approximately one year to develop the idea and launch the kiosk.

Hara felt the program was fairly novel in Ohio and said it was “very exciting” to offer the opportunity to the county’s approximately 8,000 employees. The county will be tracking usage of the kiosk, including reasons for visits and what type of financial benefits may be derived from use of the HealthSpot. 

According to Dr. Julia Bruner, medical director of MetroHealth’s MetroExpressCare, the program’s biggest challenge is understanding what can actually be evaluated using telemedicine. While high-definition video and sensitive medical instruments can provide a physician with solid information, there’s no virtual substitute for personal contact.

There’s no official sunset date for the pilot. Hara said she’d like to see the program continue indefinitely, but it’ll depend on whether or not MetroHealth and the county deem it a success. That’ll take time, usage data and perhaps a customer survey to determine.

“We’re kind of getting our feet wet and seeing where it goes,” Bruner said. “And that’s a good thing for the first few months, and then we’ll take a step back, look at what we’ve done so far and the trends and see where we should go from here.”

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1999, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.