Technology

Mobile health care comes to City Hall in Kansas City

The mobile telemedical unit in the Kansas City Health Care Trust medical kiosk on the eighth floor of City Hall has equipment so patients can visit with a doctor remotely.
The mobile telemedical unit in the Kansas City Health Care Trust medical kiosk on the eighth floor of City Hall has equipment so patients can visit with a doctor remotely. jtoyoshiba@kcstar.com

A new tool has been introduced at City Hall in Kansas City to keep its workforce healthy: a mobile telemedicine kiosk for city employees who are feeling under the weather but don’t have time to visit a clinic.

A registered nurse, Sherry Valentine, staffs the City Hall kiosk and administers to patients enrolled in the city’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield health care plans, which are available to more than 4,700 city employees, plus retirees, spouses and dependents older than 18. Patients can visit the kiosk for minor illnesses or injuries, such as headaches, sprains, nausea or colds.

Valentine checks the patients’ vitals before a doctor or nurse practitioner beams in on the kiosk screen for a consultation. The doctor then gives a diagnosis and treatment instructions or prescribes medication, and the patient leaves without paying a copay or deductible for the visit.

Sherry Valentine, a nurse with the Kansas City Health Care Trust medical kiosk, describes how patients can see a doctor remotely through the kiosk, located on the eighth floor of city hall. (July 14, 2015 - video by Jill Toyoshiba)

The cost to run the telemedicine kiosk, which was launched July 1, is included in the city’s insurance program administered by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City and the Kansas City Health Care Trust, which provides oversight for the partially self-funded municipal insurance program.

In collaboration with Mosaic Life Care, the mobile kiosk is a part of the city’s larger initiative to keep employees healthy and reduce the number suffering chronic illnesses. Thirty-eight percent of the municipal employees suffer one chronic condition, and 13 percent suffer two or more, according to City Councilman John Sharp, board chair of the Health Care Trust.

“It is really designed to allow people to have easy access at no cost to them for minor injuries or illnesses before they escalate to something more serious,” said Sharp.

An unhealthy workforce leads to lagging productivity, but it also means a larger bill for the city. More than 80 percent of the city’s health care costs go to treating chronic medical conditions, Sharp said.

The system works best when a patient’s primary care physician is in the loop with telemedical care, even in cases of acute illness, according to Eve-Lynn Nelson, director of the University of Kansas Center for Telemedicine and Telehealth. An on-site registered nurse who can personally connect with and educate the patient is also key to telemedicine, she said.

Eleven doctors are now available through Mosaic, but patients still get face-to-face and physical consultation with Valentine. If the doctor wants to examine the patient, Valentine can use equipment such as a stethoscope to monitor the patient’s heartbeat as the doctor listens in.

Valentine’s goal is to educate patients on their health, and so far patients have reacted positively to the kiosk, she said.

“People are amazed at how easy and convenient it is,” Valentine said.

From time to time, a patient’s condition is serious enough that Valentine suggests a clinic visit. When one man walked in with a bruised hand, Valentine bandaged it up and told him to see a doctor. The man’s hand turned out to be fractured.

“Sometimes the patient needs an extra nudge, someone to say, ‘Hey, we really do need you to come in,” Nelson said. “I think that’s a really good use for telemedicine.”

More than 20 people have visited the kiosk since it opened.

Valentine nicknamed the kiosk Cassie after the constellation Cassiopeia. She and Cassie are available to see visitors from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The kiosk is on the eighth floor in an old employee smoking lounge.

To reach Kasia Kovacs, call 816-234-4455 or send email to kkovacs@kcstar.com. Twitter: @kasiakovacs.

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