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Health & Medicine for Senior Citizens
Walmart Health Screening Stations Touted
As Part of
Walmart, Sam's Clubs to have 2,400
health stations offering consumers free and convenient access to health
care by allowing them to screen their vision, blood pressure, weight,
and body mass index (BMI)
KHN Staff Writer
This story was produced in collaboration with
While shopping at the Alexandria, Va.,
Walmart location, Aleisha Butler, 24, takes
a moment to utilize the SoloHealth Station,
an interactive, self-service health care
kiosk. (Photo by Jack Gruber/USA Today).
Feb. 19, 2013, Sterling, Va. – Perched by a
computer monitor wedged between shelves of cough
drops and the pharmacy in a bustling Walmart,
Mohamed Khader taps out answers to questions
such as how often he eats vegetables, whether
anyone in his family has diabetes and his age.
He tests his eyesight, weighs himself and
checks his blood pressure as a middle-aged
couple watches at the blue-and-white SoloHealth
station advertising "free health screenings."
"You may not go to the doctor every year, but
you come to Walmart often," says the fit-looking
43-year-old Khader who lives in nearby Ashburn,
Va. "I get bored while my wife is shopping.
This is a time killer. I’ll come back in two
months or so, and track my results."
A burgeoning consumer health industry is
betting that millions of consumers will do just
As Americans gain coverage under the federal
health law, putting increased demand on primary
care doctors and spurring interest in cheaper,
more convenient care, unmanned kiosks like these
may be part of what their manufacturer bills as
a "self-service healthcare revolution."
From SoloHealth's stations, slated to be in
2,500 Walmarts and Sam’s Clubs next month, to
video consultations with doctors, to smartphone
apps that track blood pressure and heart rate,
consumer health technology is attracting
big-name backers such as retailer Walmart,
health insurers Wellpoint and UnitedHealthcare
and companies that make or distribute medical
products, such as Johnson & Johnson and
Walmart's interest is especially significant,
given the giant retailer's reach, the growth of
its pharmacies and retail medical clinics and a
top official’s recent statements - since
walked back by the company - outlining plans
for a push into primary care.
Some doctors' groups and consumer advocates
urge caution, raising concerns about how
companies might use personal health data, the
quality of their medical information and whether
advertisers and other sponsors might shape their
advice and referrals for commercial reasons.
"There is a trend in general by retailers and
health insurers to provide 'fluff' to consumers
in the guise of real medical information as an
advertising delivery device," says Carmen Balber
of the left leaning advocacy group Consumer
Bringing Exam Rooms To Patients
Walmart spokeswoman Danit Marquardt says the
placement of SoloHealth stations in many stores
is part of the retailer’s commitment to "testing
new products and services and ways to keep
The SoloHealth Station gives consumers
free and convenient access to health
care by allowing them to screen their
vision, blood pressure, weight, and body
mass index (BMI) -- or any combination
of the four--in seven minutes or less
for free according to the manufacturer
(Photo by Jack Gruber/USA Today).
"We don’t have a larger plan for primary care
at this time," she added.
But SoloHealth's backers do have larger
plans. The Duluth, Ga.-based company aims to
expand its kiosk offerings to teach people how
to quit smoking, test whether they are at risk
for diabetes and even enroll them in health
Self-serve computer stations are also eyed as
a way to help consumers figure out whether they
need medications for conditions such as high
cholesterol, under a proposal now before the FDA
to make some prescription medications over the
"It is clear there are now many
interactive mechanisms that can step the
consumer through the process of self-diagnosis
and medication selection," said Janet Woodcock,
director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation
and Research at a public hearing last March. The
proposal is still under review.
Rival firms are marketing similar
technologies. Dublin-Ohio based HealthSpot has
enclosed cubicles that allow patients to pay $59
to $79 for a video "visit" with a doctor.
NowClinic online, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth
Group, provides 10-minute video chats with
physicians for $45.
Technology "has become a new arm of the
health care delivery system," says Jay Sanders,
an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University
and CEO of The Global Telemedicine Group, a
consulting firm in McLean, Va. "You need to
bring the exam room to where the patient is, not
where the doctor is."
'Treading A Fine Line'
SoloHealth's founder and CEO Bart Foster saw
larger possibilities for automated screening
after he began providing Walmart with
self-service vision tests as a way to get
shoppers from the product aisles to Walmart's
In 2010, the firm got a $1.2 million grant
from the National Institutes of Health to
develop new approaches to screening for people
in underserved communities. It has also received
more than $43 million in investments from
computer maker Dell Corp., health insurer
WellPoint and Coinstar, maker of the Red Box DVD
rental boxes, he says.
Today, SoloHealth's kiosks, which are not
connected to a live physician, allow consumers
not just to test their eyesight and learn if
they are obese, but to get information on diet,
vitamins and pain management. A "find a doctor"
function can direct users to nearby doctors,
although the one in Sterling listed only
"optical doctors" -- and those appeared mainly
to be Walmart-affiliated.
Foster says SoloHealth has received lists of
doctors from sponsors, including Walmart, and
also allows doctors to buy a listing. SoloHealth
does not do any independent review of doctors'
credentials. About 20 to 30 doctors are
Among its programs is one that advises those
suffering symptoms of heartburn whether it may
indeed be heartburn and which over-the-counter
product might be useful, says Stephen Kendig,
the firm’s chief commercial officer.
"We’re treading a fine line," Foster says.
"We don’t want to practice medicine, just
But such programs raise a red flag for some
consumer advocates who worry the "advice" might
be an advertisement.
The SoloHealth station in Sterling, Va., for
example, runs a video for Healthy Choice yogurt
while the blood pressure device inflates. Ads
for Nature Made fish oil supplements or Healthy
Choice frozen meals appear when consumers
respond yes to a written question asking if they
want more information about a healthy lifestyle.
Others appear for allergy drug Zyrtec and
heartburn medication Prilosec.
The ads, which can be targeted to particular
consumers based on their answers, are
SoloHealth’s revenue model. "Reach customers
when they are aisles, not miles, away," the
firm's message to advertisers on its website
Users who enter their email addresses -- and
about 18 percent do -- will receive test
results, along with information that might
include "ask your doctor about this drug" this
or "pick up some Advil on aisle four," says
Foster. Despite those efforts, every one of the
five people who used the kiosk in the space of
about an hour, including Khader, said they did
not notice the advertising.
Consumers Union Senior Attorney Mark Savage
says it’s a good thing to get people more
engaged in their health, but he says the new
technology carries potential risks.
"You have a situation where a patient is
voluntarily disclosing information, which means
there is no privacy protection, generally,"
Savage says. "They may not know if the
information is being kept and might be used
weeks or years after."
Solohealth’s Kendig says the firm is not
considered a covered entity under the Health
Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of
1996, meaning it is not required to meet the
law’s privacy standards. If it shares personal
health information with insurers or medical
providers, then it would need to meet those
All information, except the email addresses,
is aggregated and shared with SoloHealth
sponsors without personal identifiers, Foster
says. Those who leave their email address can
track their test results over time and may be
sent more information, including newsletters
targeted to specific health conditions.
Consumer Khader did not mention concerns
about how his information might be stored and
used in the future. But he did have one
suggestion. Turn the machines so the screen
cannot be seen by other customers.
"I would like a little more privacy," he
Link to report at Kaiser News Service for
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