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New Devices Are Lowering the Cost of Health Care

Buried among all the scary articles about the high cost of health care comes some really good news:  Affordable, consumer-friendly devices are being made available that attack the Doctor on Smart Phonemedical issues most responsible for health care’s high cost.  It’s the chronic diseases, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke that account for 75% of that cost.  For the most part, these medical issues are also the most preventable; and that’s where the new, easy to use, devices come in.  This got a lot of attention at this year’s Consumer Electronic Show (CES), the big showcase of the latest in product developments.

Two of these innovative medical tools even made it to the coveted top 10 of the Last Gadget Standing, a contest that awards new innovative products that will make a difference and endure.  SecuraPatch,  a wireless adhesive the size of a quarter made to look like a band-aid, was one of them.  Its sensors are designed to track heart and respiration rate, skin temperature, stress, activity and even posture.  Based on parameters that the user or medical advisor has set up, the medical information is collected and transmitted continuously via email or text message to the wearer, caregivers or medical personnel.  It can be set up for 24/7 monitoring, providing emergency responses to any life threatening situations.  SecuraPatch will be available by June and promises to be moderately priced.

30 million Americans have diabetes and must test their blood sugar level multiple times a day.  Telcare’s Wireless Blood Glucose Meter, another of the Last Gadget Standing finalists, collects these findings via smart phone and provides immediate advice to the patient and, if necessary, warning alerts to medical caregivers.  The application also collects the patient’s  diet, exercise and medications and provides graphical analysis of the interactions of these factors.  For encouragement and support, a social networking base is available.  Since its launch, doctors and patients have reported significant improvements and parents of diabetic children have found it particularly helpful.  It is FDA approved and costs just $150.

The health related booths at CES featured one break-though medical device after another.  They ranged from the amazing,  the NeuroSky headset that allows the wearer’s brainwaves to control a toy helicopter, to the mundane, the Hapi fork that vibrates when a person eats too fast.  But the device that touched my heart, literally and figuratively, was AliveCor’s Electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG).  Lives have already been saved because of this invention.  It’s a tool that snaps onto an iPhone 4 or 4s like a case and wirelessly communicates with an app on the phone.

Normally, an ECG reading requires a visit to a medical facility where medical personnel attach electrodes to various parts of one’s body before a ECG readout is possible.  To record their ECG on AliveCor’s instrument, however, a person simply holds the phone horizontally with both hands, mirroring a depicted graphical display. The measurement is then transmitted to people or institutions designated to receive it.  It provides A-fib sufferers  long-term remote monitoring and gives information to medical caregivers that they couldn’t get from one-off office visit testing.  Post-surgery monitoring can take place on an on-going basis without numerous doctor visits.  Children suffering from heart problems have especially benefited, making it easy to get their readings and giving their doctors more information over time.  This FDA-approved, life saving tool requires a doctor’s prescription but costs just $199.00.

SecuraPatch, Telcare’s Blood Glucose Meter, and AliveCor’s ECG Meter as well as many of the other affordable personal medical implements at this year’s CES are made possible by the convergence of 3 breakthrough technologies: Bluetooth communications, Cloud computing, and the development of the Smart Phone.  Bluetooth provides short distance almost instant wireless transmitting.  The Cloud refers to a form of shared storage that allows people, through computer programs or Smart Phone applications, to transmit and retrieve information to and from the Cloud.  The cost of access to these super-useful technologies has come down such that they’ve spawned hundreds of products never dreamed possible before.

The idea that someone could own their own serious ECG machine would have been crazy just a short time ago.  The fact that a person’s real-time vital signs can now be instantly available to doctors and care givers in other locations makes for better medical decisions and immediate response. The notion that all this could be had with comparatively little cost will contribute significantly to bringing down the cost of health care; and that’s welcome news indeed.

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