High-Tech Health Devices

When Anita Mirchandani’s father-in-law monitored his blood pressure at home using an over-the-counter blood pressure cuff, he frequently forgot to keep a record of the readings. He could only tell her whether he thought his blood pressure was high or low on that particular day. So when Mirchandani, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the New York State Dietetic Association, found iHealth’s wireless blood pressure cuff, she asked her dad to try it.

“The device takes a reading and transmits the systolic and diastolic numbers to an app, which is synced through a Bluetooth. It is phenomenal because I can track his trends,” said Mirchandani.

Mirchandani believes the new wireless devices and apps have many benefits for patients with diabetes and high blood pressure. “The patients I counsel are not able to recall such factual information accurately. If they don’t write it down, they say, I think that last week I took my blood pressure in the morning and it was ‘this’ or ‘that.' You always have room for error," she said. "This way I can say, you took your blood pressure Monday and it was good; Wednesday it was high. What did you do between Tuesday and Wednesday? Let’s work on trigger foods, or how to manage your stress level, and how to keep snacks around. Then there is a dietary medical nutrition therapy I can focus on, such as a patient getting a morning workout in so we can preempt his stress levels for the day. A dietician’s job is so much easier if they have that information readily available.”

Healthline sat down with two health technology executives to find out how consumers are poised to benefit from the new wave of wireless healthcare devices and apps in the marketplace.

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Simplicity in Sync

Jim Taschetta, chief marketing officer for iHealth, which offers nine wireless products, told Healthline, “We turn your mobile device into a personal mobile health companion. The company was founded around this principle; that the smartphone will become central to a person’s life. Why not allow that device to power some of your healthcare and health management needs? We've taken these medical grade devices, typically used by medical professionals, and turned them into products you can use at home.” 

iHealth's focus is on diabetes and heart health. “The solution is the combination of the device and the application that allow you to do everything from measure, track, look at trends, and to share that data with your caregiver circle,” said Taschetta.

And simplicity is key. “When you open the app, the BP 7 wireless wrist monitor says, 'go,' then it inflates, and in 35 seconds you have a reading," Taschetta said. "Once you connect it with your phone it’s connected forever. You open the app in the morning, put on the device, and take a measurement. We’ve built into the app a way of auto detecting whether or not the meter is in the right position, and that ensures accuracy.”

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iHealth blood pressure monitor, courtesy of iHealth

IHealth recently introduced two wireless blood glucometers, the BG5 and the Align. The BG5 is compact, and in addition to storing information on the glucometer, it wirelessly syncs information to your smartphone or tablet. “The advantage to a consumer is they no longer need to try to record their information. They are able to very easily look at trends and manage the disease more effectively,” said Taschetta.

Consumers can share their information directly from the app by email, or the information can automatically be transmitted to an online account. “Patients can give permission for a doctor or family member to see the data they want to share. It’s a 'consumer controlled EMR (electronic medical record)' because it puts the power of sharing in the hands of the consumer,” said Taschetta.

Dubbing iHealth’s second new glucometer, the Align, “the world’s smallest blood glucometer,” Taschetta said, “You take the blood glucometer and plug into your phone jack, and you've essentially converted your phone into a blood glucometer. The meter takes the measurement and displays directly on your phone through the app. You can put the meter in your pocket. It’s slightly bigger than three quarters stacked together.”

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Think Like an Elephant

Patients with diabetes and other chronic diseases often forget to take their medications. Or, it may be that they can’t remember they already took their medicine.

The latter scenario led Omri “Bob” Shor to create MediSafe, a wireless, cloud-synced medication management app.

Speaking to Healthline from the company’s headquarters in Haifa, Israel, Shor, the company CEO, explained that his father, who has Type 2 diabetes, asked if he had seen him inject his insulin. “My answer was no, meaning I didn’t see him inject. My dad misinterpreted this to mean that he had not injected the medication, so he took it again and eventually he overdosed. He’s fine today, but you can imagine how dreadful it was for us,” said Shor.

How does MediSafe work? Shor explained, “A person clicks on Google Play or iTunes Store to get the free app. A patient types in the type of medication, when they are supposed to take it, and the shape and color of the medication. One of the most powerful features in MediSafe is it allows you go share it with a family member, so if my father doesn’t take his medication on time, I get a push notification telling me that he didn’t take his medication for some reason. There are three buttons: call, text, or email, so I can contact him and intervene in some way,” said Shor.

Currently, 61 percent of users favor texting, 19 like email, and 22 percent prefer making phone calls, said Shor. MediSafe is most often used by patient with diabetes and those who are monitoring their vitamin D intake. People are also using it to remind themselves to take contraceptives, cancer and heart disease drugs, and post-surgery medications. 

In June, MediSafe became the first mobile health app to be included on Google’s just-announced suite of Android Wear smartwatches.

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Make No Mistake

As the mobile health app market continues to grow, several health law experts are calling for more oversight by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure consumer safety and data protection.

According to a recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine, there are some 100,000 health apps on the market, but only about 100 have been cleared by the FDA. By 2017, mobile health, or mHealth, apps are expected to fetch $26 billion, an increase from $2.4 billion in 2013.

Lead author Nathan Cortez, an associate dean of research at SMU Dedman School of Law in Dallas, Tx. wrote, "Consumers will be spending a lot of money on these products, and venture capital is flying into the industry," but that an unregulated mobile health industry could create "a Wild West" market.

He added, “Most consumers take mobile health app claims at face value, and think that because they're available through a trusted retailer like the iTunes Store, they must have been reviewed by the FDA, which isn't usually the case."

The authors argued that the FDA needs "additional funding and in-house technical expertise to oversee the ongoing flood of mHealth products."

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