It's no secret that the health care industry is increasingly dependent on digital technology for tracking and managing everything from medical records to vital signs. But a growing number of products and services, many of which rely on mobile phones and other wireless connections, are targeting tech-savvy consumers seeking to improve their own health or better manage the care of children and seniors.
Here are some of the products that were on display at the recent Consumer Electronics Show, plus a whimsical concept design that's getting a fair amount of play on health and fitness blogs.
1. Track blood pressure on your iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch
The Withings blood pressure monitor looks and works like most blood pressure measuring cuffs. Instead of having to tote around a bulky apparatus for readouts, however, you simply connect it to your iOS device to launch a pre-installed app that not only displays your current blood pressure and pulse rate but also stores the data to generate graphs showing how you're doing over time. Withings plans to ship the product in February.
2. BodyMedia armband sends workout data via Bluetooth to a smartphone
Diaries of food intake are an important part of any weight loss/fitness plan, but tracking activity and calorie burn is important too, and for many people unfortunately this task often comes down to guesswork. The BodyMedia FIT Armband BW tackles the problem by monitoring physical activity, steps taken, calories burned and time spent sleeping, it then sends the data wirelessly to your Bluetooth-equipped smartphone (Android or iPhone). The BodyMedia app also lets you keep a food diary.
3. Tiny devices send vital signs to the cloud, and to caretakers
Ideal Life makes a whole family of compact vital sign monitors that transmit information via Bluetooth to a small home gateway (the company calls it a "pod") that in turn feeds the data over the web to caretakers. Shown here are the pod and a blood sugar reader that diabetics might use. The system offers two-way communication for example, you might get an alert if your blood sugar reading is outside the parameters that your physician set. Until now, these products have been available only through healthcare professionals who monitor the data, but Ideal Life expects to start selling directly to consumers sometime this year.
4. Better biorhythms through science
A whole class of new devices promises to make you a better you overall. The EmWave2 Personal Stress Reliever from HeartMath sounds like the ultimate in New Age technology: Use it to take your pulse on your thumb (or your earlobe via an included sensor), and the device employs coloured LEDs to gauge your stress level (or lack thereof). HeartMath says the product also suggests breathing patterns to combat stress.
5. Monitor your brain waves
B-Bridge International's Brain Athlete system consists of a cap with an earpiece and a NeuroSky EEG sensor for reading your brain waves, along with PC software for analysing them. Intended as a tool for improving sports performance, the Brain Athlete hardware transmits data to the PC via Bluetooth. The idea is to help you figure out whether you're concentrating when you should be. B-Bridge's Brain Athlete site is available only in Japanese right now, but company founder Hiro Masumoto explains how the Brain Athlete system works in a videotaped presentation at a recent trade show.
6. Zamzee: Taking care of child fitness
Concern over the rising rates of childhood obesity appears to be prompting several products that seek to address the problem. HopeLab's Zamzee for example, promises to motivate tweens to engage in physical activity through a system of rewards. Kids pocket or clip an activity meter (based on a previous product called gDitty) to their clothing. When they return from being out and about, they plug the device into a USB port to upload their activity record to a profile page on the Zamzee website, which translates their activity to points that will be redeemable for "virtual goods and real world rewards." Details are being worked out for a planned launch later this year.
7. Tanita's first body fat scale designed for kids
Tanita is well known for making scales that also measure the percentage of weight that is body fat, but up to now the company hasn't had any special products for children. The new Tanita BF-689 is not only sized for kids aged 5 to 17, with smaller foot platforms and nonskid features, but it also shows FDA-cleared body fat targets for boys and girls of those ages (which differ from the recommendations for adults).
8. High-tech bottle caps remind you to take your meds
It's not enough for your doctor to prescribe miracle drugs to control chronic illnesses or conditions, you have to actually take the pills, and people sometimes forget to do so. Vitality Glowcaps do everything but get you a glass of water to help you swallow them. Designed to replace standard caps for pharmacy pill bottles, these caps have built-in wireless chips that communicate over cellular networks and activate an escalating series of reminders, from lights (on the cap and a plug-in hub) to a ringtone to a phone call, if you don't open the bottle within 2 hours of the scheduled dose time.
9. Android app has features for Alzheimer's patients and caretakers
A number of smartphone apps use GPS to let you track family members and friends, but Iconosys's Tell My Geo takes the concept a few steps further to make it useful for Alzheimer's patients and their caretakers, with separate versions (Android only so far) for each. The caretaker app works like most other tracking apps to help you find the cared-for person's smartphone, that phone meanwhile has large software buttons that allow the user to summon assistance and find their current location on a map. Additionally, caregivers can store vital medical information (à la medical-alert bracelets) on the patient's phone as well as with Iconosys, which can provide the data to doctors and hospitals as needed.
10. And now, for something completely different....
You won't find this product in stores, it's not real. Rather, the toilet scale is a concept design that several health and fitness bloggers have discovered on a page created by one Haikun Deng, a student at the University of Gothenburg School of Design and Crafts. Deng theorises that weight-conscious women might like to discreetly learn how much lighter they are after, shall we say, a visit to the ladies' room. So why not build a scale right into the toilet seat to facilitate before-and-after comparisons? What I want to know is: would men not be curious too?