Do-it-yourself health kiosks start popping up around state

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Free do-it-yourself health screening kiosks are begin to pop up in place of old blood pressure screening machines in the state, the Star Tribune reports.

The kiosks, from SoloHealth, measure things like a person's vision, body mass index and blood pressure, and can assess the risks of heart disease,. According to the paper, there are 3,000 of the machines situated in megastores like Wal-Mart and Sam's Clubs, including 50 in Minnesota.

The machines ask customers ask on-screen questions -- including inquires about their age, gender, allergies and potential symptoms -- tailors their recommendations and advertisements based on the information, and even provides a list of local doctors and assists with scheduling appointments.

University of Minnesota medical historian Dominique Tobbell tells the Star Tribune that the machines could be "super beneficial," and address the issue of a problem in the health care field -- which is the need to "get more patients engaged in preventive health care."

The founder and CEO of SoloHealth, Bart Foster, told the paper that he's not trying to compete with doctors, but "empower people to take care of themselves."

A former drug company executive, Foster developed the kiosks, which debuted last fall, with a $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Since the kiosks make their money with advertisers like drug companies, the kiosks have caused some concern among scholars and physicians. Dr. David Thorson, the chairman of the Minnesota Medical Association, tells the Star Tribune that he's concerned that test results from the kiosks may unduly alarm patients if there's no medical professional available to interpret the results.

In addition, Art Caplan, a medical ethicist with New York University and former University of Minnesota professor, tells the paper that he's worried the kiosks may promote unproven remedies.

Foster, however, isn't concerned about the criticism, saying a medical board reviews the health information to verify the accuracy. The ads, he noted, helps provide the service for free.

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