The world is about to get four billion more nurses. With the help of add-on apps and gadgets, cellphones can become medical helpers that track and transmit your vitals to physicians. These mobile aides will help catch diseases early, save ER visits, and cut health-care costs. And as future implants let phones trigger drug release, your favorite gadget may even save your life.
Now: Track Your Own Health
Today’s medical cellphone apps focus on fitness, an area that doesn’t require FDA approval. Strap this heart monitor around your chest while you jog, and it beams info over Bluetooth to the Nokia N79 Active. Software on the phone records your heart rate, along with your route, altitude, speed and distance, as calculated by a GPS chip in the phone. Chart your progress, or compare it with your friends’, on Nokia’s Sports Tracker Web site.
Nokia N79 Active $530 (est.; Polar heart rate monitor included); nokia.com
Soon: Loop in Your Doctor
Next year you’ll see the first apps that link your phone to bona fide medical devices, such as blood-pressure cuffs and diabetics’ glucose meters, and send stats straight to a doctor for instant review. The Health on the Go program, now in tests on BlackBerry phones, captures blood pressure and oxygen and sugar levels when you connect instruments using Bluetooth. Alerts remind you to check your stats and what your target numbers are.
Healthanywhere Health on the Go $300/year (est.; hardware not included); healthanywhere.com
Later: Let the Doctor Take Over
The mobile devices of 2012 and beyond (like the concept below) will check vitals automatically, so you don’t even have to stop texting. Researchers at the University of Texas are developing implantable sensors that use short-range radio chips to constantly beam vital signs to your phone. Your cell then relays info to your doctor, who can send back instructions for the implants. For instance, your phone could signal the sensor to take extra measurements or, eventually, to release built-in doses of insulin or painkiller.
University of Texas at Dallas Telemedicine www.eac.utdallas.edu