Smartphones, tablets and computers link us with friends, relatives and the rest of the world. But they now do a lot more than that. They can remind you to take your pills, monitor your blood pressure and make your hospital stay easier.
"Wireless technology is a game changer when it comes to medical care," says Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. "You'll be able to carry out an online visit with your doctor, which will be a boon for people who find it difficult to get to the doctor's office."
Soon you'll be able to beam a photo of your rash, send your electrocardiogram and forward your blood sugar levels to your doctor whether you're at home, in the office or on vacation. And no need to travel to a distant office only to sit endlessly in the waiting room. Here, seven types of high-tech health gadgets that are either available now or coming your way soon.
1. A glowing reminder
Up to half of all patients who fill prescriptions don't use their medications as prescribed — and forgetting to take a pill is a big reason why. The GlowCap pill-bottle cap flashes orange and beeps when it's time to take your meds. Simultaneously, a companion plug-in reminder light emits an orange glow.
If you fail to take your pill and ignore the GlowCap's nagging for more than two hours, the chip notifies a service center, which sends an automated email, text message or phone call to warn you.
Want to see how well you're doing? You can keep track with weekly and monthly reports that go to you, a relative or your doctor. When it's time for a refill, simply push a button under the cap to be connected to your pharmacist. The GlowPack, a resealable pouch that holds medicines such as blister packs, inhalers and injectables, is now being tested.
The fine print: You currently can order Vitality Inc.'s GlowCap on CVS.com for around $80. The cap and light connect to AT&T's network. You don't need an AT&T account, but there is a monthly fee for the service. A three-month plan costs $24.99 a month, a six-month plan is $19.99 a month, and a 12-month plan lowers the monthly cost to $14.99.
2. Cellphone in a pill bottle
Another gadget, also designed to help people remember to take their meds on time, is AdhereTech's high-tech pill bottle, which uses cellphone technology to measure exactly how many pills (or liquid doses) are in the bottle at any specific time.
When a prescription comes in, a pharmacist supplies information about the drug, dose and timing; the company programs the bottle to glow blue when it's time to take a pill, and red when you've missed it. If you continue to ignore it, you get your choice of a reminder — blinking light, chimes, call, email or text message. If none of these work, the bottle alerts your choice of a relative or doctor to check up on you.
The fine print: The bottles are still undergoing testing and are not on the market, although they may be in about a year. AdhereTech has no plans to sell them directly to consumers. Rather, they want insurance companies, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies to give the $60 bottle to patients when doctors prescribe meds for conditions in which pills should be taken exactly on schedule. The company is betting that hospitals and insurance companies will be willing to shell out money up front to avoid penalties for hospital readmission and the costly consequences of patients who neglect their meds.
Next page: A pill that communicates with your doctor? »