Osco Thinks Its Medical Testing Kiosks May Click Nationwide

Times Staff Writer

Health testing booths opened in five Denver Osco Drugs' stores this week may start a nationwide trend, although some doctors claim that the tests are unreliable.

In the booths, certified medical technicians test clients' vision, blood pressure and lung functions, and draw blood samples that are analyzed to detect a variety of health problems.

Osco is the first major drug store chain in the country to install in-store medical testing booths. Denver-based Instant Medical Tests, which operates the Osco kiosks, plans to franchise its health testing booths nationally next year, IMT Vice President Nancy Landauer said.

IMT has a one-year exclusive contract with Osco to operate booths in the company's 666 stores in 30 states, she said, adding that Osco has agreed not to offer such services for a year if it fails to renew the contract next June.

The booths do best in affluent areas, she said.

"The part of the population that seems to use us seems to be over 45 and well educated," she said.

Prices range from $5 for a lung test to $35 for the complete blood chemistry test, Landauer said. A battery of tests takes 20 minutes and can be performed while a prescription is being filled.

Results for such tests as blood sugar levels are available immediately, while complete blood test analyses can be picked up at the booth or mailed to customers' homes within 48 hours, she said.

Blood samples are flown to a commercial clinic in New Jersey and tested for 55 health risks, such as abnormal levels of cholesterol and, for men, acid phosphatase, Landauer said. High levels of acid phosphatase are a warning sign of possible prostate cancer, she said.

Customers whose test results fall outside the normal ranges are referred to area physicians and hospitals, Landauer said. Nine Denver hospitals have endorsed the program, she said.

Voices Doubts

Giving such blood tests to the general population may not be an efficient or reliable way to uncover illnesses, said Dr. John Batjer, regional spokesman for the College of American Pathologists.

For healthy people who do not already have symptoms of some disease, he said, "there are very few laboratory tests which are good screens."

The reliability of acid phosphatase tests for prostate cancer has been widely questioned, especially when the samples must be flown to distant laboratories for analysis, said Batjer, a Seattle pathologist specializing in laboratory tests. "It's never been accepted as a good screening test for people who are entirely asymptomatic."

He added: "Acid phosphatase is just a terrible test to screen with."

Medical testing information is best given to and discussed with patients by a doctor, Batjer said. Test results without an accompanying explanation can needlessly worry patients until they see a doctor, he said.

"You've got to take this information and put it in perspective, and who's going to do that?" he asked.

Calls Not Returned

A spokeswoman for Osco Drugs did not return phone calls.

Landauer said that some Denver doctors have complained since IMT opened its first booth in July, 1986, at a Denver shopping mall. But the company had quieted those complaints, she said, by stressing that the tests are intended simply to give information to customers, not diagnoses.

IMT also has promoted the training of its medical technicians, all of whom must have at least a year's experience in a physician's office or hospital and receive a 30- to 40-hour training course, she said.

"A lot of doctors come out and see us, and they feel better when they see our personnel and they see our training," Landauer said.

Osco has 172 drug stores in California, operating under the name Sav-On Osco.

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