Cellphones have already proven to be a potent medical instrument in improving patient outcomes. Diabetes patients who are sent videos on their cellphones and actually view them are more likely to check blood sugar levels and comply with their care regimens, said U.S. Army Col. Ron Poropatich, who spoke at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week.
And wounded veterans sent text messages via cellphone have better follow-up treatment routines and feel more connected to caregivers, said Poropatich, deputy director of the U.S. Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center at Fort Detrick, Md.
Several military-run treatment trials are testing the promise of cellphones and online apps in patient care. Poropatich foresees patients tracking their blood pressure and other measurements using computers and devices, and those findings being monitored remotely by caregivers. Similarly, cellphones and online video can connect care-intensive patients who want to remain in their homes with off-site doctors and families.
Both of Poropatich’s parents are alive and “I would like to be able to log onto my Blackberry and see how they are doing,” he said.
Already, commercial firms are making their own evolutionary strides in telemedicine and personal health monitoring.
A look at some of the health and medical advances on display last week at CES:
•Homebound parents can stay connected online using VitalLink, a touch-screen based computer system that allows real-time video chatting using the phone line and webcam. The New Jersey-based company created online software that can be used with touchscreens, no mouse or keyboard required. “We’re keeping it easy to use for the elderly who are computer-phobic and don’t have the skills,” says company president Rich Brown.
Photo galleries can also be uploaded for viewing. Chat and photo software features start at $4.99 monthly; touchscreens start at about $300 (vitallink.net).
In some assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, VitalLink is being tested with an additional activity monitor feature that lets caregivers and primary family members track the resident’s involvement. “If they are not active, you can try and call or you can initiate a call from their end and see what’s going on,” Brown says.
•For elderly relatives who want to remain in their own homes, the My Guardian Angel service provides automated fall and wander detection, emergency readings and other behavioral and medical monitoring. Residents wear a wristwatch that tracks location, sends out fall alerts, records body temperature and can be upgraded to record pulse as well.
Additional health data from Bluetooth devices (blood pressure, glucose monitoring) can be captured by My Guardian, too. Base price for the system with watch, wireless Internet gateway, three wireless electrical plug-in routers and charging unit is under $1,000; $79.95 monthly service (atguardianangel.com).
The system is highly customizable. “My mom does not like to sleep with (the watch on) and she takes it off every night. If she doesn’t have it on by 8 a.m. I get a text message to call my mom and tell to put it on,” said CEO Ed Caracappa. “It’s a very complete and fully functional system for those who wish to age in place.”
•Data tracking can also help those who aim to get – and remain – physically fit. MapMyFitness records and tracks your workout progress using free iPhone apps and compatible devices such as hear monitors and GPS devices.
Runners and bicyclists can wirelessly input data from a heart rate sensor (made by Garmin, Wahoo, Adidas or Timex, for instance) to the iPhone or iPod Touch (also compatible with Blackberry and Android devices). ” That gives you instant feedback,” says MapMyFitness senior mobile development manager Chris Glode. “You can just look at your phone and know whether you are in your target zone or not.”
Other data types that can be input include runner cadence and speed, power expenditure (good for cyclists) and weight ($130-up, www.mapmyfitness.com).
Beyond that, a Web-based subscription service lets you view workout charts and reports, as well as training plans (free to $100 annually). “More and more people are wanting to track every aspect of their life using more and more sophisticated types of sensors,” Glode says. “The data you get, in addition to how you feel during the workout and how many calories you burned, is crucial to people.”
•Workouts can tracked and more enjoyable by incorporating your big-screen TV. BodyMedia’s Fit Armband BW ($249) tracks calories burned and consumed, physical activity, steps taken and sleep. The Bluetooth device lets you monitor activity on your iPhone or Android phone already, but starting in April Panasonic will let you access BodyMedia’s software on its Viera HDTVs.
That will allow exercisers to watch their activity levels and calories burnt add up while they watch movies, TV shows or while playing video games. “Our partnership with Panasonic is on the cutting edge for adding important health and wellness information to everyday TV viewing,” says BodyMedia chief information officer Steve Menke. “The integration of a body monitoring technology with the TV is enabling real-time health and wellness management.”
The marrying of consumer electronics and medical technologies is going to be needed especially as baby boomers age, Poropatich says. “Electronic devices are going to hooked to the cloud. That’s all happening.”