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Published in Small Business
The development of Criterion Manufacturing Solutions’ health screening kiosk was driven by the pandemic. The development of Criterion Manufacturing Solutions’ health screening kiosk was driven by the pandemic. COURTESY PHOTO

Pandemic drives health screening innovation for GR-area companies

BY JAYSON BUSSA and MARK SANCHEZ Sunday, November 08, 2020 06:40pm

When Jeanne Rathbun and her team at Criterion Manufacturing Solutions Inc. noticed a growing need for health screenings to safely bring employees back to work, they leveraged decades of experience in custom automation to develop a more streamlined solution.

“We started to see the picture — hand screening and using touchless thermometers — and we saw that was going to be a problem for people to try to do it all manually,” said Rathbun, president and CEO of Comstock Park-based Criterion. “At that point, we started talking about whether we could provide a better solution.”

Criterion’s Touchless Entry Screening kiosk was the end result of the company’s pursuits. It’s an all-in-one digital kiosk allowing people to scan in with an identification card, take a temperature check and answer applicable health-related questions — all without physically touching the device.

If a person does not meet the specific requirements for entry, the system immediately emails an alert to designated staff members to inform them of the failed test. Once a person becomes familiar with the kiosk and its daily prompts, a thorough COVID-19 check-in can be completed in less than 10 seconds.

Rathbun said Criterion is developing and tweaking the system as the company receives feedback from its clients.

Criterion’s new kiosk is just one of many examples of how companies have quickly pivoted during the COVID-19 pandemic to bring an innovation to market and address an emerging need.

Efficiency driving innovation

In a survey conducted this summer by Menlo Park, Calif.-based consulting firm Robert Half International Inc. of more than 2,800 senior managers in 29 large cities nationwide where companies employ at least 20 people, more than one-quarter of respondents said their firm launched a new product or service during the pandemic.

In addition to Criterion, a medical staffing firm in Grand Rapids developed a new mobile app for employees to do a daily health screening, which started in the spring. For both companies, the innovation was driven by the need for an efficient way to perform daily employee screenings.

Diversified Medical Staffing LLC received referrals and requests last spring from employers that were reopening and needed staff to screen employees and take temperatures as they arrived at work, President Charlie Ferro said. After a couple of weeks working with paper forms, Ferro decided: “I didn’t like the product we were delivering. It seems messy and it seems like we can add a lot of more value to what we were charging clients.”

Ferro reached out to Mike Kunzler — managing partner of Grand Rapids technology company The C2 Group — for help developing a wellness app employers can use for daily employee screenings.

The two created a new entity around the Portico app suite they’re now marketing to employers as a better way to manage daily employee screenings, track results and meet state and federal requirements.

Employees can answer health screening questions before arriving at work each day, leaving only a quick temperature check before they go in, Ferro said. The Portico app was “born out of a need, and we needed to make it more efficient,” he said.

“Essentially, we systemized the process of checking somebody in,” he said. “If you’re trying to get a thousand people in the door at 9 a.m. and can take this from a three-minute to a 30-second process, that makes a big difference.”

The app automatically emails supervisors when an employee has a high temperature or reports symptoms. It also allows managers to ensure employees have done their daily screening.

The automatic reporting alleviates the potential for missing a person with possible symptoms, and a potential outbreak, because the person performing screenings didn’t report it or supervisors forgot to check the record that day.

“Now it’s becoming pretty important for employers to know what’s happening and be able to report where a breakout happened,” Ferro said. “Was there a little flare up over in this part of the production facility so they can clamp down on that?”

The app also can help an employer better meet federal privacy regulations by avoiding “personally identifiable health information sitting in a paper folder in your entryway,” said Chris Singel, product development lead for Portico. “Well, that’s not great and probably doesn’t meet HIPAA rules.”

Finding customers

West Michigan manufacturers and health care providers such as long-term care facilities are early targets for selling app subscriptions. The app is “super flexible” and readily updated to add new features or customize questions, Ferro said. Companies also can use the app for screening clients or other visitors to facilities.

At Criterion, the company’s work in custom automation meant that it already had an extensive network of clients to help test the product. The company started beta testing the kiosk in July and spent three months combing through feedback and finding ways to make improvements.

“It has been very well received,” Rathbun said. “Just yesterday, two companies that had a unit said they needed a second unit. … Almost every place that we put a demo unit, they purchased a unit.”

One pain point companies are encountering when checking employees into a building per CDC and state regulations is that most temperature scanners are ineffective when placed outdoors. However, Rathbun said Criterion’s latest innovation is able to operate outdoors.

When the COVID-19 pandemic subsides and companies are no longer tasked with conducting mandatory health screenings on employees, Rathbun said the touchless approach to answering a questionnaire can be used for other applications, giving the kiosk some long-term staying power in the marketplace.

“I think the biggest thing we offer that gives a lot of versatility of the product is the touchless interface,” Rathbun said. “We’ve had discussions with several HR representatives that said even if we didn’t have COVID, we might put this out for employee surveys. … There are a lot of different applications for that very fast, touchless methodology.”

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