ANN ARBOR---The University of Michigan's Comprehensive Cancer Center is launching a statewide network of interactive computer kiosks to link residents with up-to-date health information. The $1 million project, which debuts at selected areas around Michigan throughout October, was funded by proceeds from the state tobacco tax. The highly interactive system is the first health-related project of its kind in the nation.
The Michigan Interactive Health Kiosk Project calls for about 50 computers---housed in kiosks similar to those used for automated bank-teller machines---to be deployed in Michigan communities. It is hoped that additional kiosks can be deployed on a yearly basis.
Complete with touch-activated screens and custom software, the computer kiosks will display a highly interactive program, called "Health-O-Vision," developed and updated by experts at the U-M. Currently, there are five available channels that cover a broad spectrum of health topics and issues---breast cancer, prostate cancer screening, smoking, bike helmet safety and immunization.
"Our goal is to reach people in a way they can relate to and enjoy, so the kiosks will look and act more like interactive TVs than computers," says project leader Victor J. Strecher, professor of public health and director of the Cancer Center's Prevention and Control Program.
Kiosks will be set up in libraries, work sites, health clinics, shopping malls and other public areas, with a particular emphasis on reaching medically under-served individuals.
Strecher gives the example of a 50-year-old woman who expresses interest in getting a mammogram but is concerned about radiation exposure and finding cancer. The program will address her concerns by reviewing specific information about the low level of radiation used in mammograms and the benefits of early detection.
"We think our kiosk will allow a person to create their own educational experience through touching the screen, interacting with the program and obtaining the information that is relevant to their needs," says Strecher, who also directs the U-M Health Media Research Laboratory, a program of the U-M's Cancer Center and School of Public Health.
Strecher says the kiosks are easily expandable and there are plans to add five to seven additional channels in the next year. "This type of program with its television format," he says, "allows us to easily generate new channels, new risk factors, add them in a seamless way, then each year, add on and refine the channels we already have." The kiosks are hooked into a central computer server at U-M, allowing for information on the systems to be updated as needed.
Strecher says his group plans to closely monitor feedback from health kiosk users. It's hoped that in the very near future, people using the kiosks will be able to get a print-out that will give them a personal plan of action, tailored to their specific needs. Strecher says there are also plans to localize the information available at a given location. For example, a person using the prostate screening channel could be made aware of free screenings or health fairs in the area.
Public health and medical specialists, computer programmers, graphic artists and Hollywood Screen Writers Guild writers joined forces on the project.
"Studies have shown that, compared to standard mass-produced materials such as pamphlets and booklets," Strecher says, "health messages tailored to an individual's needs and interests are much more likely to result in a positive health behavior change."