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Technology Puts You in Charge of Your Health

The next wave of medical devices can help you track your pills, blood pressure, temperature and heart rate
. Here, 7 types of health gadgetry coming soon

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3. Smart pills

Your pill may soon communicate with you and your doctor directly. No glowing lights, no message from the cloud, just the FDA-cleared pill you swallowed not 10 minutes ago.

You'd better believe it. Smart pills work via a tiny sensor the size of a grain of sand that attaches to a pill or capsule. The sensor is powered when it comes in contact with stomach acid; it sends information to a disposable skin patch that acts as a receiver. The patch notes the time the pill was swallowed as well as your heart rate, temperature and physical-activity levels, and relays this information to a smartphone app. From there, you and your doctor or relative, with your permission, can download the data via Bluetooth to check that you're taking your medication correctly.

The fine print: The sensors contain trace amounts of the minerals copper and magnesium, which provide the power. The indigestible parts are passed out of the body in the usual way. Proteus Digital Health, the company behind the sensor-in-a-pill, calls the system Helius. The pills are available through some U.S. hospitals and doctors' offices. If you're interested, ask your doctor about it.

4. Star Trek's earthly counterpart

Imagine a device the size of a hockey puck that will monitor your temperature, respiratory rate, blood oxygen levels, and heart rate and rhythm in just 10 seconds when you hold it to your forehead. The Scanadu Scout can also take your blood pressure without a cuff, with 95 percent accuracy.

Sound like Star Trek's medical tricorder? You're not far off — the Scout's operating system is based on one used for sample analysis on NASA's Mars Curiosity rover. Once the Scout records the data, you'll be able to send it to your smartphone via Bluetooth and track it over time or take it to your doctor to provide a real-time measure of your health. You can also use it to monitor someone else.

The fine print: Scanadu hopes to make the Scout available in late 2014 or early 2015 for $199, after it has been approved by the FDA, a necessary step before the device can be sold commercially. Interested? Log on to Scanadu.com. The company has also developed ScanaFlo, a urine test kit using a disposable paddle, which will provide an early warning if something's not right with your kidneys, liver, urinary tract or metabolism. A smartphone app will guide you through the test procedure and automatically interpret the test results, store them and explain them.

5. Easier hospital stays

A clunky-looking wrist unit about the size of a business card may make hospital life easier for patients and staff alike. Sotera's mobile system, ViSi (Vital Signs), offers around-the-clock monitoring of a patient's heart and pulse rate, blood pressure, skin temperature, breathing rate and oxygen levels in a small wireless package worn on the body.

ViSi gives patients the freedom to get up and move about without being tethered to machines. The device also immediately alerts staff of unfavorable changes in any of the readouts. ViSi's several components include a wrist monitor, chest sensors, a thumb sensor and a wireless blood pressure cuff. Medical staff can get information directly from the wrist monitor or access it from a central nursing station. The data are also available remotely via computer or smartphone.

The fine print: Several hospitals already use ViSi, including Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, Calif., and Intermountain Medical Center and LDS Hospital, both in Utah. Sotera's vision for the future includes monitoring patients after they've been discharged from the hospital.

Next page: Studying a million hearts, one at a time. »

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