The Perspective 
Tuesday, 23 June 2009
This column is excerpted from the 2009 Self-Service Consumer Survey, sponsored by Self-Service & Kiosk Association.
 
From using ATMs to scanning groceries in self-service lines, we consumers are clearly comfortable with do-it-yourself options that save us money and time. Computer literate and technologically savvy, many of us also scour the Internet for information and services — often about medical concerns.
 
These trends are playing a pivotal role in the transformation of the healthcare system in the United States. Already devotees of blood pressure checks in drugstores, consumers are moving from "passive patient" to "engaged participant," with growing numbers eager to explore the next generation of convenient self-screening and monitoring options in the retail environment.
 
Some may question whether this new direction is good for the physical health of the consumer and the fiscal health of the market. But as industry leaders recognize the opportunities and the lead generation created by the change from a patient-oriented to a consumer-driven market, a win-win situation is emerging.
 
The development and availability of self-service health screenings can encourage consumers to catch problems early, when they are usually most treatable. It may also help consumers identify risk factors to prevent future health disorders, saving them money in the long run.
 
Providing consumers with health information and initial self-service screenings does not eliminate the need for thorough exams and testing by professionals. Rather, the opposite is true. If marketed correctly, these self-service screenings can generate leads by educating consumers about which healthcare services they need and move them onto the appropriate healthcare track for professional care.
 
The healthcare industry’s business-as-usual strategies of the past are simply not meeting current needs. One example: vision care. Regular eye exams can help detect problems early by assessing and treating vision problems and spotting eye diseases at a more treatable stage. The problem is that most Americans are uninformed about the need for regular eye examinations. In fact, according to the American Optometric Association, most people seek professional eye care only every 36 to 48 months — about half as often as recommended. Recent self-screening vision tests of 6,000 people in Georgia showed that 30 percent of them had never had an eye exam — and 80 percent of those using the free kiosk screening device were directed to see an eye care professional.
 
According to Prevent Blindness of America, the economic impact of vision problems in the U.S. is estimated at $51.4 billion. Dr. Kevin Lavery, a leading ophthalmologist and former FDA investigator who has taught eye surgery around the world, said that up to 50 percent of glaucoma cases go undiagnosed — and yet when left untreated, this disease can cause blindness.
 
It is crucial to educate consumers on how regular eye exams can help them preserve eye health and reduce expenses for future medical care, because disorders can be diagnosed and treated at earlier stages. Furthermore, if consumers understood and acted upon the need for regular eye exams, the U.S. vision care market, currently valued at more than $25 billion, would benefit substantially.
 
In the current healthcare climate, we need to use technological innovations to engage consumers in new ways. To do this, we must understand what they want and need. For example, data shows that nearly 38 percent of Baby Boomers would use a retail health clinic. And a new survey by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions concludes that many consumers desire wider access to healthcare in retail settings. While expressing anxiety about future healthcare costs, people are searching for services that save them money and offer convenience.
 
We need to close the gap between what consumers want and what they are currently getting by partnering with the healthcare professional community. Offering self-service screenings and monitoring at convenient business and retail locations makes sense, especially if we incorporate user-friendly technology to make the experience satisfying and informative. The sponsorship of these technologies will actually encourage consumers to schedule more office visits with a healthcare professional.
 
This will lead to better preventive healthcare for consumers and a stronger economic marketplace for those of us in the healthcare industry.
 
Bart Foster is CEO and founder of SoloHealth, an emerging company in Atlanta that is positioned to capitalize on the growing consumer preference for self-directed healthcare services. SoloHealth's inaugural product is EyeSite, an interactive kiosk that provides vision health information, as well as a customized vision report. Click here to see a video about the kiosk. In 2008, EyeSite won three Self-Service Excellence Awards, including Best in Show, at KioskCom Self Service Expo.
Posted by: Bart Foster AT 12:49 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, 03 March 2009
Self-service healthcare is not an oxymoron. In fact, it just might be an opportunity whose time has come. Driven by significant advances in Internet, mobile and kiosk technologies, and the rise of the "Information Omnivore" — a well-informed, empowered consumer — the time seems ripe for emergence of personalized self-service healthcare, where consumers play a more active role in the evaluation and management of their medical well-being.
 
As smart technology, infused with intelligence, continues to make pertinent information more accessible, healthcare experts believe such progress could ultimately lead to increased compliance to treatment regimes, a healthier population and potentially lower healthcare costs. In some quarters, it is already happening. Self-service technology is currently available to help healthcare patients register for services, retrieve information, navigate their way through a facility and settle accounts.
 
This consumerization of healthcare could mean it won't be long before patients expect the same level of self-service convenience in healthcare that they can now get in an airport or a traditional retail store and a growing number of other industries. I am convinced that if self-service can be linked to patients' primary care doctors and the doctor-patient relationship in a meaningful way, it can be a very powerful healthcare offering. Just as self-service kiosks for airplanes are linked to the airlines.
 
Technology providers who aggressively pursue solutions that meet these emerging expectations could help clients reduce their costs and improve overall staff productivity. Such health management tools could help clinicians and patients alike benefit from the availability of patient information. Technology could be the catalyst needed to move information from the doctor's file folder to an easily accessible self-service kiosk, or online Web browser.
 
An interesting healthcare trend I've noticed recently is the rapid growth of retail clinics in such places as strip malls, CVS stores, Wal-Marts, shopping centers and other locations. During 2007, there were roughly 750 of these clinics in the U.S., all run by licensed physicians managing a group of licensed practical nurses. The total represents growth of almost four times the number that existed in 2006, with analysts predicting the number of clinics to continue their annual growth in double-digits even in tough economic times.
 
Yet, in spite of its promise, self-service healthcare has several inhibitors, including privacy regulations, initial cost of capital, a clear return on investment and overall user acceptance. However, we believe that the focus on healthcare reform and cost reduction on a broader scale will trickle down and begin to manifest itself in leveraging self-service solutions to improve both cost and efficiency. In addition, growing consumer dissatisfaction with such things as the inconvenient process of waiting rooms, paperwork, calls to insurance companies and pre-authorizations, could help accelerate the deployment of self-service solutions.
 
As self-service continues to spread rapidly across multiple industries, healthcare truly represents the next major frontier. Consumers are getting more and more comfortable with self-service technology. They enjoy the option of "serving themselves" for many common tasks. Self-service is now viewed by many consumers as a critical element of outstanding consumer service. The most familiar examples include ATMs, check-in at airports and self-checkout systems in retail stores.
 
When talking about the consumerization of self-service, we see a combination of touch points for consumer interaction, such as the home computer, mobile devices and kiosks in multiple industry establishments. With multiple interaction points, it is important to ensure a common brand image, data sharing and integration to back-end systems, to make certain that the consumer receives a consistent and intuitive experience regardless of where and how they interact with your business.
 
The proliferation of self-service technology in the healthcare industry presents both a challenge and opportunity. A key challenge is growing user confidence and acceptance — a much higher threshold to overcome than self-service solutions for a grocery store or apparel retailer. More is at stake if something goes wrong. A challenge to businesses deploying self-service solutions is choosing the right platform. The platform capabilities and other critical requirements must be in place to ensure the solution is deployed successfully — scalability, performance, open standards, security, integration with other health information systems, and systems management to name a few. Consumers will not accept self-service options that are not reliable or secure, or that have slow performance. The software infrastructure is also critical to ensuring the self-service solutions can connect with the appropriate back-end systems such as patient records.
 
Challenges notwithstanding, I am convinced that the opportunities are endless. Consumers are projected to spend over $1 trillion through self-service kiosks by 2011, according to IHL Research, which affirms a September 2007 IBM study that showed consumers becoming more and more comfortable with self-service as a way to access additional resources when it is convenient for them.
  • Eighty-one percent of consumers indicated their reasons for choosing to use self-service technology over human interaction is that it allowed them to access information and services outside of normal business hours.
  • Sixty-nine percent said they expect more and more businesses to offer a self-service option.
  • Fifty-two percent revealed they are very comfortable using self-service technology, with roughly 50 percent indicating their usage of self-service devices had gone up during the past year.
  • Almost half of consumers would use self-service technology in lieu of human interaction to get more personal information such as accessing human resources or benefits information at work (45 percent) and checking in and reviewing medical history at a doctor's office (40 percent).
  • More than 33 percent of consumers said they would like additional resources available to them while they shop.
As is the case with a number of today's service establishments, there might not always be a person waiting to answer your questions, or the waiting line might be too long, causing you to leave. Studies have shown that consumers will wait a maximum of 3-4 minutes before they get frustrated and potentially leave. What if you're at a drug store and the line is several people deep? All you want to know is whether to take certain non-prescription medication with your prescription medicine. A kiosk could help you get your question answered almost instantly. And self-service kiosks are more private. There are medical questions and issues you just don't want to talk about to a live person, but you may need the information. In some cases, you can search it out online, however, if you're in store, an in-store kiosk could be used.
 
It's about providing smarter, more convenient solutions for consumers. Although it's not the only solution, self-service kiosks could serve as a valuable extension to access information from electronic medical records systems, and to obtain prescription information, and other online customer data, products and services.
 
Self-service could be just what the doctor ordered — a fast and convenient option for consumers, and a boon for innovative, consumer-driven IT vendors ready and willing to pursue an opportunity that I believe is the next great frontier for a growing self-service economy.
Posted by: Norma Wolcott AT 11:00 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, 07 January 2009
As deployers and vendors look to maximize the value of self-service in the coming year, it helps to take a look back at what did (and didn't) work in 2008. As editor of SelfService.org, I've compiled some of the stories that rocked the industry last year. Here is Part II of that list.
 
 
February was a black month for Citibank as two Brooklyn men allegedly made hundreds of fraudulent withdrawals from New York City ATMs. They reportedly pocketed at least $750,000 in cash. The significance of the thefts? Experts say this ATM crime spree is the first to be publicly linked to the breach of a major U.S. bank's systems.
 
#4: NCR debuts SelfServ kiosk, ATM lines.
In January, NCR announced the release of the SelfServ ATM, its first new line of ATM in a decade. The SelfServ ATM features, among other things, the ability to accept bulk check deposits. It also comes equipped with so-called self-healing technology – technology that enables the ATM to recover from some malfunctions via a remotely-managed reboot.
 
The SelfServ 60 kiosk was unveiled in October at KioskCom Self Service Expo. It integrates Intel vPro technology, including the next-generation Intel Core 2 Duo processor and Mobile Intel GM45 Express chipset, enabling it to run more advanced and engaging applications than its predecessor, the EasyPoint 42 kiosk.
 
#3: EyeSite kiosks help health care industry 'see' the light.
It was early in 2008 when EyeSite kiosks first broke into the national scene. Developed by startup SoloHealth, the EyeSite kiosk provides the user with a self-service eye exam. Though not a substitute for a professional eye exam, the kiosks do give the user a general idea of the quality of his vision and spotlights the dangers of conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration. The EyeSite kiosk was developed via a partnership with Netkey and KIOSK Information Systems.
 
#2: Redbox and Universal Studios go head-to-head.
In August, representatives of Universal Studios showed up unexpectedly at the headquarters of redbox with an ultimatum: Sign a revenue sharing agreement limiting the types of DVDs that could be stocked in redbox kiosks, as well as the amount charged for them, or Universal would cut off sales of its DVDs by commercial distributors. Redbox refused to sign the agreement and in November, filed a lawsuit against Universal, alleging that the distribution company was improperly interfering with a business relationship.
 
The lawsuit highlights the dramatic effect DVD kiosks are having in entertainment industry. The lack of overhead means DVD kiosks are able to offer DVD rentals for $1 a day – a dramatically cheaper price than that charged by brick-and-mortar stores. 
 
#1: Recession strikes the world economy.
There's no denying that the economic downturn that struck in the last financial quarter of 2008 will have a significant impact on the self-service industry. The jury is still out: Will companies turn to self-service in an effort to cut labor costs, or will they shy away, fearing the initial costs of new deployments?
 
"We're on the eve of, probably, the greatest financial crisis of our time. In retrospect, I don't think we've ever seen anything like this since World War II," said V. Miller Newton, president of the Self-Service & Kiosk Association, while at KioskCom Self Service Expo in October. "Companies are definitely hunkering down. They're gonna cut costs … they're gonna be budget conscious … but I believe self-service is a critical component and a must-have in this economic downturn."
Posted by: Travis K. Kircher AT 10:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, 30 May 2006
Editors usually wait until the end of the year to pick favorites, but I've seen so many fascinating self-service innovations in my recent travels, I’d like to discuss some of the most interesting solutions to surface so far in 2006.
 
Government: Pay-Ease is continually upgrading its ACM (automated commerce machine) to include more new features. They’ve found a healthy market for the machines in government applications, like paying parking tickets and printing parking permits. They’ve also been testing check cashing applications. Soon, rumor has it, they’ll find another healthy market for card-printing on-demand – and it’s not the flooded loyalty card market that similar machines keep splitting. Find more information at www.pay-ease.com.
 
Healthcare: Dr. Jack Goldstein in Pawtucket, R.I. developed AutomationMed, a medical tracking system that’s deployed not only in the lobby of his clinic, where patients use it, but in the examination rooms as well. Goldstein can input medical data as he diagnoses patients. Over time, it tracks outcomes data to correlate which treatments are most effective for which problems. The program’s question fields can be swapped around for other medical specialists. The data is stored in universally recognizable formats, designed to be mined for medical research. What’s more: a doctor can cross-reference his accounting databases to see which treatments are most profitable. The software can be purchased at www.automationmed.com and deployed on a kiosk or waiting room computer.
 
Retail: The LiveSupport customer service software by Experticity, which Microsoft included at their Retail Systems booth in May is revolutionary for stores that want to offer sterling information without losing the personal touch. Meanwhile, Clarience 1:1 by Retaligent Solutions Inc., which I first saw at the NRF show in New York and, more recently, at Retail Systems in a newly upgraded form, is the end-to-end solution of choice for retailers needing to offer human service with high-tech empowerment.
 
Networking: Ventus Networks’ secure cellular financial network is a novel system. The company’s engineers have devised a way to keep their virtual private network from dropping off of the cellular system even as the signal gets rotated from tower to tower. Ventus remotely manages the ATMs on the network from their corporate headquarters in Connecticut. From there, technicians can monitor a number of key indicators from up-time to signal strength. The most recent upgrade of their cellular router can accept any kind of cellular network chip.
 
Payment: The Verifone MX870 mini-kiosk is an upgrade to the typical price checking kiosk which customers are used to seeing (or, often, not seeing, due to their size). The MX870 solves much of the invisibility problem many mini-kiosks suffer by offering sound and full-color video. It also offers Triple DES secure payment and signature capture capabilities.
 
These are just a few of many great self-service solutions, and the rest of the year will certainly yield many more.
Posted by: Bryan Harris AT 01:58 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, 15 May 2006
An easy way to compute demand is to look around for a big line of people. If the people in the line have money, and the line occurs constantly in a certain circumstance, you’ve found a good venue for the next big thing in kiosks.
 
That’s what made the most successful kiosk in history, the ATM, so successful: a lot of people who definitely had money (given that they all had bank accounts) were tired of standing in line, and the banks wanted to save the man hours it took to service them all.
 
Since then, grocers, retailers and airports have done similar things in similar situations and realized similar benefits in cost savings and service increases. We can now look at a few different verticals and see more next-big-things on the way.
 
Common use check-in: Airport self-check-in has become so successful, the kiosks now have long lines of their own. What’s worse, service at the airport, aggravated by security concerns, is deficient compared to other service industries. Airports themselves tend to be crowded, making space optimization a priority. Enter common use check-in kiosks. Imagine everyone in that big line diffused across every check-in kiosk in the building, each unit featuring the ability to check in a passenger on any flight from any airline there. The crowd disappears, customers are more satisfied and space is no longer wasted.
 
The driving force behind this concept is the International Air Travel Association, which has developed the Common Use Self-service Standard (CUSS) to facilitate integration and communication of airport check-in kiosks. The IATA has made CUSS integration one of its top priorities, with a stated goal of persuading 15 more airports to implement it in 2006. Major industry players like association-member NCR’s subsidiary Kinetics, which builds the majority of airport check-in hardware, are vying for a slice of the CUSS-compliant kiosk market.
 
Hotel check-in: Already, major hotel chains are deploying kiosks allowing guests to check-in from the airport instead of the front desk and print room key cards on the spot. This expedites hotel check-in, reducing lines at the front desk and freeing up hotel staff for other tasks. It’s especially useful for travelers doing a short stay, with very little luggage in tow, who can go straight to their destination (for example, the floor of a convention) without taking an extra cab ride to the hotel and standing in line to check in first. And they need not only be at the airports: on-site check-in kiosks will help alleviate lines at peak arrival times.
 
Medical check-in: Relieving lines for patient convenience is only part of the reason this technology will soon become widespread. It can improve patient safety by making medical records more portable. For example, after medical data is gathered by a kiosk it can be downloaded onto a USB thumb drive in a standard (i.e. XML) format that a patient can carry on a keychain or lanyard. If that person shows up at a hospital incapacitated, caregivers can quickly access his or her complete medical history.
 
On the back-end, these kiosks can offer complete treatment and financial tracking, including the cost and profit of treatment for different patients and illnesses.
 
Of course, there are enormous crowds of people who aren’t as easy to see, and finding them is a little trickier. For example, c-stores have realized that many customers often don’t use banks. About a third of American residents fit this category. Financial kiosks, offering services like billpay and money-order printing, have become widespread as they try to draw more foot traffic into stores, where the high-margin items reside, since another successful self-service solution, pay-at-the-pump, has deterred many drivers only to the gas – a low-margin item.
 
Now companies are catering to another big crowd of people with money: immigrant workers wanting to send money home. According to The Pew Research Center, 40 million money transfers occurred from the United States to Mexico in 2003, totaling about $16 billion. Now, financial kiosk companies are trying to capitalize on that market.
 
We’ll see many more next-big-things advancing rapidly as well: pay-by-phone, biometric payment and RFID, for example. For now, deployers line up to service the crowds.
Posted by: Bryan Harris AT 01:54 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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