Touchscreen technology — Coming to your clinic?

How do you broaden access to family planning services? Some family planning agencies are looking to touchscreen technology to get information front and center to those who may need their services.

Family Planning Health Services (FPHS) of Wausau, WI, has developed and installed mobile touch-screen computer kiosks at three Wisconsin college campuses in an effort to help women enroll in the state’s Medicaid family planning waiver program.

According to Lon Newman, FPHS executive director, several reasons led FPHS to locate the kiosks at the college sites. Their student populations are primarily made up of reproductive-age people at risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. None of the facilities, which are two-year campuses, offer student health services. Also, student status generally reduces earning potential and income, which in turn impacts ability to pay for care.

The state waiver program took effect in January 2003. The most recent estimates indicate that 320,422 Wisconsin women are eligible for services under the program, says Newman. The kiosks were developed to help women enroll in the program as quickly and conveniently as possible.

"Many of those 320,422 women don’t know that the waiver is available," he explains. Because of the mobility of the kiosk, it can be placed it in easily accessible locations, such as businesses and college campuses, Newman adds. "It is a visible and interactive way of promoting waiver participation."

FPHS, which offers reproductive health care, contraceptive services, and education at seven clinics in a seven-county area of central Wisconsin, has fielded questions from other agencies about use of kiosks in their organizations, says Newman. "The kiosk is a work in progress and not quite ready for mass distribution, but we are ready to work with providers on a site-by-site basis so a kiosk could serve the women in their location."

FPHS has worked with the three colleges — University of Wisconsin Marathon County and Northcentral Technical College, both in Wausau, and Mid-State Technical College in Stevens Point — to determine the most appropriate kiosk location for students, says Newman. On one campus, the kiosk is located in a hall in the student union. On another campus, where the students were more concerned about privacy, it is located in a corner of the library. The third campus has a kiosk placed in a computer lab.

The touch screens are used to conduct presumptive eligibility enrollment for the family planning waiver program, as well as to submit orders for ongoing prescription and nonprescription contraceptive supplies for existing FPHS clients, says Newman.

If a woman wants to see if she is eligible for the waiver program, she uses the kiosk to answer a series of Medicaid eligibility questions and options. As the user enters information on the screen, the computer automatically prompts her through the questions.

"Initially, there were some concerns about personal information being read from the screen from a distance, which we overcame by encoding information, such as Social Security numbers, that appears on the screen," explains Newman. "This is comparable to the way a PIN [personal identification number] appears on an ATM machine."

The information from the kiosk is submitted via the Internet to the FPHS clinic, where a nurse can call to follow up on the request, whether it is to enroll in the waiver program or to reorder contraceptive supplies. Appointments for annual exams and sexually transmitted disease (STD) screenings also may be made at this time.

Many women feel comfortable using the kiosk to enroll in the waiver or to reorder supplies, says Newman. It is particularly convenient for women who do not have Internet access and would otherwise need to enroll in person during regular business hours, he states. The kiosk works well for the FPHS staff because it saves them the time and labor required to fill out the forms, and they receive complete information via the web before interacting with a client, says Newman.

"When a staff member contacts a client, she already knows whether or not the client is eligible for the waiver and what services the client can receive at no charge," he explains. "Because the client indicates contraceptive method preferences on the kiosk, the nurse is prepared to discuss the appropriateness of the method and alternatives when she is reviewing the client’s medical information."

In-house developments costs have been approximately $40,000, says Newman. Hardware/ software costs for one machine are less than $10,000, he estimates. Currently, the kiosks display and speak’ information in English only.

Touchscreen technology is on the move in Texas, where Dallas-based Planned Parenthood of North Texas (PPNT) is installing interactive media terminals in 16 of its 28 clinics.

The kiosks are being installed to enhance patient education and obtain patient feedback, says Emily Snooks, PPNT director of media relations and communications. The kiosks eventually will add information in Spanish — about a fourth of PPNT’s patient base is Hispanic, she reports.

Estimated cost for the project is $120,000, adds Snooks.