1. Health
Trisha Torrey

Those Health Kiosks - Healthcare Wolves in Sheeps' Clothing

By February 26, 2013

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Coming soon to a Walmart or Sam's Club near you - A self-serve "primary care" kiosk where you can log in, check your vision, your blood pressure, and your body mass index, then find out what your risk is for getting diabetes.

And frankly, I'm not sure whether to love it or hate it or something in-between it.

You know - I'm all about empowering patients with the information they need to support their health and access the care they need. I'm just not sure this is the way to go about it. Unfortunately, it's being sold as one thing, but will actually result in something else - with few patients really knowing what they are giving up and no idea how many patients will really benefit.

Those kiosks are, indeed, healthcare wolves in very innocent looking sheeps' clothing.

So this is a warning to those of you who encounter these kiosks: be smart, protect yourself, and follow the money.

According to USA Today and Kaiser Health News these new kiosks will be helping patients with those services above. They have big signs on them that say "free screenings". They'll be personalized for you, set up so you can return on a regular basis. They will ask you questions, they will provide some results for you, and they will hope you'll come back later to see if any of your information has changed (whether it has improved or not.)

So let's follow the money:

These kiosks aren't like those little blood pressure cuffs in your local pharmacy that require you only to sit down and push a button. They ask you to set up an account, log in (please don't use your usual passwords!). Next you'll be asked to disclose information about yourself, plus your family health history. Then you'll watch an ad or two, and they will produce some "results"- maybe that your blood pressure is too high or that your risk of diabetes is low - or anything in between.

Red Flags!

1. By collecting your personal information, they can then sell your information. We've run into this before, where the data about you is a commodity that can be sold, including your prescription drug history, and your loyalty cards (those swipe cards that get you discounts at the supermarket or your pharmacy.) A little bit of benefit to you, a lot of money for them. If that seems like a fair trade for you, then be my guest. But since Walmart and Sam's are not covered entities, I can imagine that eventually this information could be shared with insurers, employers... why not?

2. By watching the advertising, you will buy sponsor's products. According to the manufacturer of these kiosks, their use will be "free" to patients (see #1 above) - supported by advertising. When you sit down, and log in, they will use whatever information you've shared with them before, and then they will run an ad that is targeted to you. I suspect that over time, they will even put the information they have collected about you together with information others have collected about you, to target their advertising even more closely. You know - I honestly have no problem with advertising, as mentioned in this site many times.... as long as it doesn't part you from your money unfairly or dangerously. The advertising is going to make everything seem good, I promise. The thing is - YOU will have to be the one who weighs the good from the bad. Just because they suggest you buy Supplement X doesn't mean Supplement X will be any good for you, or that it won't be a sheer waste of your money.

Finally, we can only guess how much Walmart and Sam's Clubs will make from the leases they allow to the kiosk's makers. Whether or not the stores themselves will share in the $$ bounty from all that data remains to be seen. But I guarantee you that everyone will be making money on your personal information - except you.

The bottom line is that this kind of "service" looks to be so very useful, but if you're really giving away all your privacy, and if someone is going to make plenty of money from you by selling YOUR information, you should at least be aware of that before you make the choice to give away so much of yourself.

As for me - you won't find me anywhere near those kiosks. But, OK, yeah. You'll find me in the shampoo section.

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Agree? Disagree?
Share your experience or join the conversation!


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Photo © Palenque - Photos.com

February 27, 2013 at 11:08 pm
(1) Val Olson says:


I’m so glad I came across this article. Thanks for the buyer beware information about these kiosks.

February 28, 2013 at 2:18 pm
(2) Steve says:

You make “Caveat Emptor” sound like a bad thing. Isn’t that the rule with every consumer purchase?

Definition of CAVEAT EMPTOR
: a principle in commerce: without a warranty the buyer takes the risk

Isn’t this the same arrangement we have at the doctors office or hospital? I don’t get any warranty from the doctor or hospital.

Doctors hand out free samples to help the pharmacy industry “sell” their products.

I’m not certain I see the difference. At least at Walmart it is clear they are trying to sell me something and yes, it is my responsibility to sort out the good from the bad…….like everything else.

As for handing over my personal information I do that when I go to the hospital or doctor including my social security number. My health records are sent to the insurance company who then “sells” demographic information about me to people who will try to sell me something. The notion of privacy is a myth. Granted, like any purchase or ‘Surfing” scam we should be careful about who we release our information to. The grocery store and hardware store uses my purchase information sell me something, so does my bank and my credit card company.

Now don’t misunderstand I resist and detest all of this and do all I can to protect my privacy. Like you I won’t likely patronize the kiosks. But they are no more objectionable than any other service that collects my information in exchange for services or goods.

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

February 28, 2013 at 2:24 pm
(3) Trisha Torrey says:


You are absolutely right about caveat emptor… but yes, I do see a big difference.

As mentioned – Walmart, Sams or any other such entity is not a covered entity – meaning – they can do whatever they want to with the information without regard to HIPAA and privacy laws. They can sell it – with your name and all your personal information intact – to anyone they want to. That’s quite different from hospitals and doctors selling “de-identified” information which means your name, social security number, insurance ID and other personally identifying info has been removed from the facts about your health.

Huge difference. At least it is to me.

Further – since it is a “health kiosk” selling you products, it’s a different status than simply running an ad elsewhere. That may not make a huge difference, but it’s most definitely worth pointing out.


February 28, 2013 at 3:35 pm
(4) Steve says:

Nice distinction Trisha. Thanks.

HIPAA is a significant modifier. Whether it is effective is another blog.

March 28, 2014 at 12:15 pm
(5) Anonymous says:

I think there are pros and cons, as with anything and everything else. There is something to be said for common sense, in general.!!!!!!!!

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