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Mobile Heathcare Needs More Hype, Not Less

By Alan Reiter Comments

With the huge number of announcements about mobile healthcare products and services -- such as Ford Motor Co.'s desire to turn vehicles into mobile health platforms -- some observers might think there's too much hype in mHealth. I disagree. If anything, I think the industry needs more publicity.

Consider Ford's recent announcement about its in-vehicle SYNC healthcare initiatives. SYNC currently offers connectivity and voice capabilities, such as voice commands to control the vehicle's cellular phone and music player, connect to a 911 operator, get turn-by-turn directions, read SMS messages, and obtain different types of information (news, weather, horoscopes, etc.).

Now, Ford is leveraging SYNC to develop at least three "health and wellness connectivity services" in conjunction with healthcare providers and Web ventures. Many of these efforts might require a few years to commercialize (if ever), but Ford's vision is evident.

For example, medical device company Medtronic Inc. has developed a prototype wearable glucose monitoring device that connects to SYNC's system via Bluetooth. Glucose levels can be displayed on the vehicle's screen as well as read aloud. In fact, the future could be using voice commands to automatically inject insulin into the wearer. Also for diabetes management and other medical information, Ford is working with WellDoc to incorporate its DiabetesManager System for people with type 2 diabetes. Users may upload pertinent information about their glucose levels, medications, diet, etc. via the Web, a cellular phone or via voice through SYNC, which connects to WellDoc's server. When contacting DiabetesManager through SYNC's voice capability, the software can ask the user a series of questions to determine that he/she should monitor glucose levels, take medication, and set reminders. (A YouTube video shows the system working.)

Ford also is working with healthcare analytics company SDI Health LLC and its site to integrate its iPhone/iPod touch Allergy Alert application into SYNC. The app is voice-enabled so users may ask for current and longer-term environmental data in four categories: Allergy (pollen), asthma, cold and cough, and ultraviolet sensitivity.

An even longer-term project is Ford's work with a German university to develop vehicle seats with six sensors that monitor a driver's heart rate. The data could be transmitted to medical personnel or to SYNC, which might warn the driver of a potential medical problem. To reduce stress, SYNC could even play calming music or automatically transfer all cellular calls to voice mail in order not to disturb the driver.

Vehicles, portable electronics and online services integrated to provide medical data and even treatment recommendations might seem ridiculous -- but then, at one time so did artificial hearts, kidney transplants and cellular phones.

We need more devices and software that help provide medical recommendations and reminders. For example, Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. in conjunction with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and PAR Inc., developed a smartphone and tablet application to help assess whether someone might have a concussion. The Concussion Recognition & Response app asks a series of questions with "Yes," "No" and "Not sure" answers.

Also, the software can be fed details such as the person's name, gender and injury location, as well as a photo of the injury taken by the phone's or tablet's camera. This data can be transmitted to a healthcare professional to help document the injury when it occurs. The app also includes exercise routines for concussion victims. Considering the near-epidemic level of concussions in high school sports, particularly football and girls’ soccer, and the inaction of state level sports associations on the issue, anything that helps parents and coaches assess concussion risk is an important step forward.

Some healthcare professionals, naturally, will scoff at laypersons trying to determine whether someone has a concussion. But software-based recommendations can be extremely useful, even life-saving. During Haiti's earthquake on January 12, 2010, American Dan Woolley was buried under the rubble of a collapsed hotel. He used his iPhone's Pocket First Aid & CPR application for instructions about making bandages and a tourniquet, and learned that he needed to keep awake if he was going into shock. Woolley set his iPhone's alarm to ring every 20 minutes.

Mobile healthcare will save lives, and the public needs to be aware of useful products and services through more publicity. Hospitals, doctors and healthcare workers should inform patients of applications that have been vetted and provide useful information. I'd like to see apps with an "Approved By" certification from responsible health organizations. And I don’t think the hype is excessive.


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