High-Tech Revolutionizes Health Care at Home

From defibrillators to drug reminders, innovations make monitoring easier

Please note: This article was published more than one year ago. The facts and conclusions presented may have since changed and may no longer be accurate. And "More information" links may no longer work. Questions about personal health should always be referred to a physician or other health care professional.

En Español

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Jan. 27, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- In the beginning, personal wellness monitoring meant the bathroom scale and the mercury thermometer. Then they went electronic, and home blood-pressure devices became common.

Today, it wouldn't be shocking to see a home cardiac defibrillator sitting in the corner.

And it's all getting linked wirelessly to home computers and cell phones, as a health revolution is creeping quietly into our lives.

Where it is going to take us is anyone's guess, just as whether new age health monitoring will make us live longer. But the IBM Corp., for example, has developed a little electronic pill box that may come in handy as the Baby Boomers edge into the years of forgetfulness. The box sends a signal to a mobile phone every time a pill is removed. If patients forget a pill, or take too many pills from the box, they get a friendly reminder phone call.

For patients who need frequent monitoring of vital signs, an IBM wristband device measures blood pressure and heart rate at the push of a button, and these are transmitted automatically to medical personnel.

Sun Microsystems and MedicTouch have introduced the Pulse Meter, which they call the "ideal health monitoring solution for sport enthusiasts, the elderly, rehabilitation outpatients and healthcare providers; providing health-monitoring anytime, anyplace, anywhere." A Pulse Meter user connects the sensor to a hand, starts the program on a mobile phone, and the pulse is displayed within seconds on the phone screen, archived, customized for user, and transmitted.

Even the lowly pedometer is electronic these days to keep track of how far we walk. A company called Walk4Life says that modem-ready, easy-to-wear pedometers are used in school, college and university physical education programs around the world. These pedometers, the company says, are employed by "wellness programs, corporations, health clubs, senior centers, hospitals and countless other medical facilities."

In Europe, a wireless wellness monitor prototype system lets people manage their efforts to maintain or lose weight. Each time people weigh themselves, the result is stored on a home computer, complete with date. Each new weighing generates displays of long-term weight history and calorie exercise comparisons. If they wish, users can transmit the data to a doctor.

In the United States, Health Hero Network of Mountain View, Calif., was an early player in the telehealth-care industry, introducing the Health Buddy system several years ago to "transform the relationship between patients and health care through home health monitoring." In effect, the system is a virtual house call.

The Health Buddy links to the Internet and "addresses more than 45 disease states and engages in dialogue with patients that allow health care providers to identify those at risk and provide care that can prevent hospital admissions," according to the company. A similar system called ViterionNET TeleHealthCare Network is marketed by Bayer-Panasonic of Tarrytown, N.Y. Another system is marketed by American TeleCare of Eden Prairie, Minn.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a pioneer in this approach, calls it home-based primary care. At the VA hospital in Tampa, Fla., a computer monitor was put in 17 patients' homes, and a nurse used the device to call in weekly. The patient pushed a button on the home monitor to answer the call. A video display allowed both the nurse and patient to see and communicate with each other and for the nurse to use diagnostic tools. The nurse listened to the patient's heart, lung, and bowel sounds via an electronic stethoscope. The patient took a blood-pressure and pulse reading and reported the findings. Readings from pulse oximeters, glucometers, and weight from electronic scales can be done.

The 17 original patients spent a combined 288 hospital days during the 12 months before participating in the program. This was reduced by 57 percent to 164 days in the subsequent 12 months.

In 2002, a VA analysis of those participating in its home health-monitoring program, similar to Health Buddy, showed a 63 percent drop in hospital admissions, a 40 percent drop in emergency room visits, a 60 percent decline in bed days of care, a 64 percent drop in nursing home admissions, and an 88 percent reduction in nursing home bed days of care. Patient satisfaction rates exceeded 90 percent.

But if all that people want to do to improve their health is lose weight, there's another kind of health buddy that may be cheaper, more lovable, and just as efficient as a computer -- a family dog.

In a study at Northwestern Medical School in Chicago, presented in Las Vegas in November 2004 at the meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, 36 pudgy dogs and their owners went on diets for a year. Owners were encouraged to walk at least 20 minutes a day and limit calories to 1,400 a day. Dogs were fed a prescription diet, and target weights were set according to body mass indices of the respective species.

Dog walkers lost an average of 11 pounds, or 5 percent of their body weight, in the first four months and kept it off for the next eight months. Dogs dropped an average of 12 pounds, or 15 percent of their initial weight. The dog walkers lost more weight than a similar group who had no dogs to exercise.

More information

For more on healthy living for seniors, visit the National Institutes of Health.

SOURCES: Robert Kushner, M.D., Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago; Nov. 14-18, 2004, North American Association for the Study of Obesity, annual scientific meeting, Las Vegas

Last Updated: