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Study reports on use of “touch screen” health kiosks

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.326.7382.184/d (Published 25 January 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:184
  1. Roger Dobson
  1. Abergavenny

    Drinking in pregnancy, healthy eating, and rashes are the three health subjects most on the minds of users of the new NHS “touch screen” health kiosks.

    The first detailed study of the use of the screens also shows that location is vital, with sites at docks, such as Liverpool and Dover, getting more users a day than screens in hospitals, and supermarkets attracting more users than health centres and pharmacies.

    The research, published in Aslib Proceedings (2002:54:372-84), also shows that use varies with type of area.

    In the project, funded by the Department of Health, the authors from City University in London have been monitoring the use of the screens, and the study is an examination of a one month snapshot of use of more than 120 kiosks. Over 150 information points are in place, but the NHS Plan is committed to having over 500 by 2004. They provide information on common health problems, advice on healthy living, and information about NHS Direct.

    The arrival of the kiosks in the NHS is part of a major, but unheralded, information technology revolution, the authors say. The Department of Health started piloting the project at the beginning of 2001.

    “In total, the period covered [by the study] 46,394 user sessions and 306,302 page views, which makes it one of biggest studies—if not the biggest—ever undertaken of kiosks in the UK, as well as the only comprehensive evaluation of NHS kiosk use published,” the authors wrote.

    The top four locations, measured by the number of users each day, were docks, hospitals, walk-in centres, and Kwik Save supermarkets. The most used kiosks were at docks, at which 173 page views a day were recorded. The bottom four (out of 16 different types of site) were screens in community voluntary service organisations, Citizen Advice Bureaux, and youth centres.

    “The data is plainly surprising, especially in regard to docks,” said the report. “However, high volumes of use are in part attributed to the number of people passing through each location. However, this might not be the only reason. Clearly locations where there are a large throughput of people also offer an environment which is relatively anonymous and not particularly intimate in terms of being observed by other people—people you might know.”

    It says that the difference in use between locations tends to undermine theories that kiosks need to be in health environments to maximise their use and value. There were also differences in the time that users spent on the screens.

    “Kiosks located in supermarkets (Kwik Save), pharmacies and docks performed relatively poorly and scored particularly badly on session time,” said the report. In terms of page viewing time, the page on losing weight was viewed for the longest time, followed by the page on itchy rashes and adult chest pain. All three pages were viewed for longer than half a minute.

    The authors said that more research is needed: “The kiosk log data has raised some important questions that require answering. Do, for instance, people trust the data contained in a kiosk located in a hospital any more than they do in a kiosk located in Kwik Save—even though it is exactly the same data?”

    Sites in the study ranged from Newcastle General Hospital and Plymouth University library to Dover Ferry Port and Reading YMCA. The kiosks were provided free to certain organisations for an extended trial period.

    The screens have four large option buttons and navigation controls. When one of the four buttons is touched, the sub-menu comes up on the left of the screen and the text will be in the middle with navigation controls on the right.

    Topic headings range from quitting smoking and getting active, to childhood immunisation and managing stress. There is a glossary of conditions, a reference section, contact details for NHS Direct, an index, and a section on symptoms.