Wal-Mart To Add Health Kiosks In 2,500 Stores
As if it isn’t enough of a one-stop shop already, Wal-Mart is planning to install consumer health kiosks in thousands of stores across the United States. The 2,500 kiosks have been developed by Duluth, Ga.-based SoloHealth and will offer customers access to a variety of health tests, including blood pressure, eye sight and obesity. Thy will also offer advice to “patients” on matters such as diet, pain management and vitamins.
Is this a good idea? Don’t people already self-diagnose too much using Web sites such as WebMD, avoiding trips to see the doctor? Now they need a machine giving them advice that may or may not be correct so they feel even more empowered to sit home while their health issues fester?
Self-diagnosis—or diagnosis by machine—can be dangerous. Lots of diseases share similar symptoms, and you can’t really rely on a computer to know if your back pain is from a sedentary lifestyle or a neurological problem. Did it go to medical school? Or for that matter even perform a thorough examination? But you can bet your bottom dollar people will start using the excuse, “The Wal-Mart kiosk told me it was…”
Privacy experts also warn the machines could pose risks for consumers since they won’t be covered under what seems to be the all-encompassing umbrella of HIPAA. Steve Kendig, chief commercial officer for SoloHealth, admits the company is not considered an entity covered under HIPAA and, therefore, is not required to meet its privacy standards. SoloHealth founder and CEO Bart Foster told Kaiser Health News that all personal data—with the exception of email addresses—obtained by the kiosks is shared with SoloHealth sponsors without personal identifiers. Yeah, at least for now. But without HIPAA’s protections, what’s to stop SoloHealth from sharing it WITH identifiers at a later date?
“You have a situation where a patient is voluntarily disclosing information, which means there is no privacy protection, generally,” said Consumers Union senior attorney Mark Savage. “They may not know if the information is being kept and might be used weeks or years after.“
But really when it comes down to it, the kiosks are just another way for Wal-Mart to make a buck off consumers, especially those struggling financially that can’t afford to visit the doc—under the guise of watching out for their health. Doctors can purchase ads on the machines (which makes you wonder what quality quacks would want to promote the devices), and the kiosks will be loaded with promotional spots. For example, a “patient” whose blood pressure reads high will get to see an ad for Healthy Choice yogurt. Another customer who responds “yes” when asked if he suffers from heartburn will be shown a commercial for Prilosec.
SoloHealth makes no qualms about using the kiosks as marketing machines. Its Web site clearly states, “Reach customers when they are in the aisles, not miles away.”
I haven’t seen any of these kiosks yet, but can already give you my verdict: Boo.
I want more stuff like this!