Automated kiosks for self-check-in are definitely a growth industry, according to Sandy Nix, president of Connected Technology Solutions, who expects her list of 50 hospital clients to multiply three to four times by year's end. The most successful rollouts, however, tend to start small and simple.

In 2008, Vanderbilt University Medical Center launched a pilot program for self-check-in with kiosks in just three areas: the preoperative evaluation clinic, the pediatric rehabilitation unit, and radiology. The hospital now has 60 kiosks in 38 areas.

According to Melissa Libby, manager of Vanderbilt's health information systems projects, setting up the kiosks to accept credit card payments was technically challenging, so Vanderbilt started with departments without co-pays,

Erica Drazen, managing partner at CSC and the author of a study on kiosk use for the California Healthcare Foundation, says most hospitals start kiosk deployments in areas with repeat patients, like oncology, or they're in large clinics that have a lot of volume.

Fifty percent of Vanderbilt patients attempt to use the kiosks, and 30 percent complete their check-ins there. The rest are diverted because check-in requires the assistance of a front-desk person—for instance, if they need to pay on their balance or fill out a regulatory form.

"The kiosk was never meant to replace people," says Libby. "What we wanted to do was to streamline the check-in process for patients who don't want to stand in line or don't need extra help."