Check Your Blood Pressure for Free, But What’s the Real Cost?

Doctor Checking the Blood Pressure of a PatientLike many of us, you may have checked your blood pressure using blood pressure machines conveniently located in pharmacies and grocery stores. Your BBB reports that in many major supermarkets and mega retail stores around the country, those simple blood pressure cuffs are being replaced by highly sophisticated health screening kiosks. These kiosks not only take your blood pressure, they calculate your weight and body mass index (BMI), test your vision, and even give health advice, all for “free.” However, it is rare that something is truly free; there are usually hidden costs, and these kiosks are no exception.

The cost is not money, but your privacy. In a report by Kaiser Health News, many of the kiosks are owned by a company called SoloHealth. The company first installed the kiosks in Walmart and Sam’s stores. They estimate they will have 5000 of the machines in U.S. stores by the end of 2014. According to the report, the machine asks a lot of personal questions such as “Do you have a blood relative who was told they have a heart problem?” and “During the past 30 days, have you felt sad or depressed?”

SoloHealth first made money by marketing pharmacy products in a display near the kiosks. However, in today’s health care market, the information these kiosks collect has become very valuable. Kaiser Health News reports that SoloHealth is selling names, email addresses, phone numbers, weight, BMI, and health problems of the consumers who use their kiosks. And who do they sell this information to? Insurance companies!

Not only does SoloHealth make money by selling information, advertisers can purchase space on the kiosk. According to a report by USA Today, while you’re checking your blood pressure, you may see ads for Healthy Choice products, Nature Made vitamins, Zyrtec, and Prilosec based on consumers’ answers to questions the machine asks.

In fact, Anthem Blue Cross signed an exclusive deal with SoloHealth to be the “sole insurance company featured on kiosks throughout California” according to Kaiser Health News. And SoloHealth added a new service offering help with understanding the Affordable Care Act. The kiosk screen shows a picture of a doctor with a stethoscope and says that they will provide an experienced professional to help you find an insurance plan that is right for your situation. However, the screen doesn’t disclose until after you put in your name, phone number, and email address that the experienced professional is not a doctor but an insurance salesman.

When the machines were first put into operation, they didn’t show the company’s privacy policy. There was a web address given, but without Internet connection at the kiosks, consumers couldn’t read the privacy policy. Since then, SoloHealth has added the full privacy policy to its machines.

According to the USA Today report, besides the privacy issue, concerns have been raised by doctors’ groups and consumer advocates about how all this personal health data will be used, the quality of the medical information, and whether advertisers and other sponsors might slant their advice for commercial reasons. SoloHealth now receives lists of doctors from sponsors and also, according to a report by Amednews.com, allows doctors to pay to place their names at the top of the lists. SoloHealth does not conduct any independent review of doctors’ credentials.

Amednews.com reports that about 85,000 people use these kiosks every day. The president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, Jeffrey J. Cain, M.D. said “The kiosks can be a great tool for patients to become more engaged in health care,” but he questioned whether shoppers should be subjected to advertised products while taking tests at kiosks.

For more information you can trust, visit bbb.org/evansville.

About Jackie 246 Articles
Jackie is the Operations and Education Foundation Assistant with the BBB. She assists consumers with business inquiries, and does presentations to senior groups and high school students. She is a regular contributor to the blog.

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