Medical Monitoring Made Easier

Guest Post

There's an unsung category of home technologies: consumer medical devices. Whether it be a digital thermometer, blood pressure monitor or one of the myriad of other technologies that keep us happier and healthier between doctor visits, medical devices are common but normally not praised or discussed because of their personal nature. But what if medical concerns are a regular part of your life?

It can be important to know about technologies that can ease medical care. Today, we've invited Edd Fear, media director of HF HealthCare , a health care company specializing in bleeding disorders and the blog, Live for Life, to discuss a few tech solutions he's recommended to patients with conditions that require regular monitoring.

Greetings, geeks and geekettes, my name is Edd Fear. As Art Director and Media Director for a health care company specializing in bleeding disorders, I've been invited to share a variety of new tech options for patients (specifically those afflicted by bleeding disorders) so they can do away with traditional solutions and reduce the amount of visits to the doctors using some tech options. I use some of these solutions myself and welcome any other recommendations from the Unplggd readers!

Hemolog App: People with bleeding disorders need to keep a log of medication usage. Until recently, this was done with pen and paper, requiring keeping a notebook or binder with log sheets handy. Considering the expense of the medication ($150K-$200K a year on average), keeping track of doses is an important piece of their healthcare puzzle. This iOS app hit the scene in Jan 2011, available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, and offers a simple interface for the patient (or parent) to log the location of an injury and the amount of factor infused, then hold that data in a form that can be emailed or printed for the doctor or treatment center. That’s 21st century!

Plans for future updates include logs for multiple users (for parents with two or more kids with hemophilia), and as developer Michael Schultz assures me, “We have HUGE plans to increase usability in version 2.” $1.99 in the App Store.

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FactorTrack: This free app hit the scene before Hemolog; the main difference (besides the entire user interface) is that this app was developed by a manufacturer with the express purpose of tracking their Factor XIII-using patients. Some people use Factor IX products instead. Confused? Trust me, it means something.

In the end, this app can be used similarly enough to Hemolog to get the same basic results (record the data, store the data, share the data with the doctor). You give up some simplicity and slickness, and deal with your information being housed with a megacorporation (with HIPAA rules in place, of course!), but the price is right (did I mention it’s free?). Free in the App Store.

Rechargeable Compress: I’m a sucker for reading those magazine-style catalogs on flights. And who’s the chief purveyor of useless overpriced crap innovative gadgets that I didn’t realize I needed until I found myself at 35,000 feet? Hammacher Schlemmer.

Something you may not know about bleeding disorders: ice is magical. But then, you science-types know that cold slows the flow of liquid, and that includes blood. So slap your $130 on the barrel head and take home this electronic wonder that applies heat to 110 degrees F and cold to 40 degrees. While certainly handier than dragging around a freezer, I’m just not quite enough of a gadget freak for this. Especially when I know about the item below. $129.99, Hammacher+Schlemmer.

The Ace Instant Cold Pack: Amazon can deliver a box of 12 of these bad boys for about $20 (plus shipping), or less than a fifth the cost of the foolishness innovative product above. A handful of these in an emergency bag will get you by until you can reach a freezer with ice (free!). This online option is especially useful when you need a regular stock of medical supplies, helping scheduling and often offering some savings.

Many people will just use a refreezable ice pack (or a bag of frozen veggies, like peas, or even—gasp—ICE IN A BAGGIE!) carried in a small cooler (price: free!). And I realize that this is all decidedly low-tech, but there’s something to be said for being prepared in all situations. These chemical cold packs are certainly a good and fairly inexpensive bit of insurance. $20 plus shipping, amazon.com.

Medical USB Thumb Drive: Those of us with significant health issues really need to have all out medical information in one place. Contact information, diagnosis information, prescription information, logs of visits to the doctor or hospital (with notes about the outcomes), and about a metric ton of other paperwork. Then there’s the insurance information!

What are computers good for? Keeping track of (see list above!). So while the failsafe is to drag around a three-ring binder of paperwork, the more organized of us (read: Computer! Geek! OCD!) get the data into our computer, and then transfer the data to a USB thumb drive. But not any old thumb drive:

Credit Card Size: Basically a plastic credit card with a USB plug that swings out, most of these include software to manage the data that goes into it. These are typically available as 128MB and 512MB versions, with costs ranging from $20-$40. A couple of examples are available here and here.

Dog Tag/Necklace Style: Another option is to wear it like a necklace. Heck, almost any thumb drive would fit the bill. But the e•Med drive sports less geekery and more style, and ships with software to manage your healthcare data. Their 1GB model goes for about $30.

Note: if your computer of choice is a Macintosh, make sure the software on the USB drive is Mac-compatible. Ask the company. And ask them about their return policy when their customer service people “mis-speak.”

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Medical Alert Jewelry: Do you fit any of these apply to you?  

  • I have a chronic health condition.
  • I take medications on an ongoing basis.
  • I have specific healthcare needs that anyone in an ER needs to know, if I’m taken to the hospital unable to speak for myself (i.e. unconscious).

If you said “That’s me!” to one or more of the statements above, I'd highly recommend some sort of Medical Alert Jewelry. Most typical is a bracelet (although necklaces are also common) and, for the little ones with issues about jewelry, you can get tags that attach to their sneakers.

When considering who to buy from, look for:

  • an obvious medical symbol incorporated into the jewelry;
  • option to include basic diagnosis or condition on the back;
  • a toll free number that can report your condition, medications, etc. in an emergency.

I personally use MedicAlert; it runs me $35/year, and I use the free bracelet that comes with the membership. My wife chose an upgraded bracelet, but also considered their necklaces, dog tags, and even the watch. These run the range from $10 up into the hundreds. Another choice is American Medical ID, who don’t charge a yearly fee. Their offerings run $30 up into the hundreds, and they offer an online registry with an 800 number for emergencies.

Again, this may seem lo-tech, but keep in mind that the supporting company (and their tech) is what makes or breaks the usefulness of this jewelry.

Thanks to Edd Fear, who also wanted to credit 7 year old son, aka The Chicken, for his photography that accompanied this guest post.

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