The University Record, September 3, 1996

Computer kiosks will connect state residents with up-to-date health info

By Margo Schneidman
Health System News Service


The Comprehensive Cancer Center will create a statewide network of interactive computer kiosks to link residents with up-to-date health information on the Internet. The $1 million project, approved by Gov. John Engler as part of the state's Community Health budget, is the first of its kind in the nation.

The Michigan Interactive Health Kiosk Project calls for between 50 and 100 computers housed in kiosks similar to those used for automated bank-teller machines to be deployed in Michigan communities early next year. Complete with touch-activated screens, printers and custom software, the computer kiosks will provide limited access to the WorldWide Web and will display a highly interactive home page developed and updated by experts at the U-M.

"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.

"The kiosks will help bridge the information gap between the 300,000 Michigan residents currently using the WorldWide Web and the millions who might not have convenient access to this technology yet," Strecher says.

Kiosks will be set up in libraries, work sites, health clinics, shopping malls and other public areas, with a particular emphasis on reaching medically underserved individuals.

In addition to providing information about local, regional and statewide screening and prevention resources, the kiosk software will create personalized self-help guides for those interested in changing a particular health behavior.

Strecher gives the example of a 50-year-old woman who expresses interest in getting a mammogram but is concerned about radiation and is worried about finding cancer. The program will address her concerns by reviewing and printing specific information about the low level of radiation used in mammograms and the benefits of early detection. A list of local providers offering mammography services also will be printed.

"Studies have shown that, compared to standard mass-produced materials such as pamphlets and booklets, health messages tailored to an individual's needs and interests are much more likely to result in a positive health behavior change," says Strecher, who also directs the U-M Health Media Research Laboratory, a program of the Cancer Center and School of Public Health.

Public health and medical specialists, computer programmers, graphic artists, and Hollywood Screen Writers Guild writers will join forces on this project to develop interactive content on a broad range of health topics---everything from getting screened for cancer and having your children immunized to quitting smoking and changing your diet.

"We are excited to offer this unique resource to the state of Michigan and expect that the kiosk project will serve as the model for others around the country who are interested in delivering public health information in a more entertaining and effective way," says Cancer Center Director Max S. Wicha.

For more information about the Michigan Interactive Health Kiosk program, consumers should call the U-M Health System at (800) 742-2300, ext. 7855.