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[IP] Soon, Cellphones Will Monitor Vital Signs of the Chronically Ill



Soon, Cellphones Will Monitor Vital Signs of the Chronically Ill

by Donna Fuscaldo, Dow Jones Newswires
December 15, 2004; Page B3A

For Mary Furlong, worrying is a way of life.

The mother of Sarah, a 12-year-old diabetic, Ms. Furlong is concerned
that managing the disease might become more difficult as Sarah enters
adolescence.

Friends and activities easily could get in the way of the regular trips
Sarah must make to the school nurse to have her blood sugar checked. For
some diabetics, failure to keep a close watch on blood sugar can result
in medical complications.

"It's a fear for every parent of a teenage diabetic," says Ms. Furlong, a
43-year-old internist and mother of five. "When approaching adolescence,
no matter how well the child responded to management, everything goes out
the window."

Recognizing the need for easier and less-intrusive monitoring of vital
signs like blood sugar, medical companies are enlisting an everyday
device: the cellphone. They're teaming up with telecommunications
companies to develop modified cellphones that can monitor things like
glucose, weight and blood pressure, and automatically send the
information to the doctor.

For diabetics, cellphones already exist with the capability of reading
glucose test strips. For people with heart disease, devices under
development will be able to monitor their vitals and send the information
to a doctor on a regular basis, reducing the number of office visits.

Many of these devices are in the early stages of development, but
companies such as Motorola Inc. and HealthPia America say this could be a
big opportunity to not only improve the quality of life for
chronic-disease suffers, but also bring down the medical costs associated
with the diseases.

HealthPia America, a Newark, N.J., telemedicine company, is working on a
device that could give Ms. Furlong the peace of mind she needs. The
device, similar to one already in use in South Korea, is a cellphone that
has built-in biosensors. A diabetic simply has to prick her finger to get
a blood sample that she applies to a standard test strip. The patient
inserts the strip into the phone, which reads it and sends the data to a
doctor or parent.

The technology is already in use in LG Electronics Inc. handsets in South
Korea, which retail for about $400. HealthPia America is just beginning
trials in the U.S. and eventually hopes to snag Verizon Wireless as a
partner. "We've had meetings with Verizon Wireless," says Steven Kim,
chief executive. "We haven't signed anything yet."

Mr. Kim says the technology should receive Food and Drug Administration
approval around February. Officials at Verizon were unavailable to
comment.

Cellphone titan Motorola has teamed up with Partners Telemedicine, a
Boston-based service of Harvard Teaching Hospitals, to develop preventive
care via the cellphone. Using wireless sensors affixed like a patch to a
patient's body, information such as blood pressure and weight can be sent
automatically to a doctor. The wireless sensors would be able to talk to
the phone using a short-range wireless technology called Bluetooth.

Using a secure Internet site, doctors would be able to set parameters for
how many times a day they would want the readings. The doctor would be
alerted automatically if the patient's vital signs fell below certain
levels.

Currently, Motorola is in early trials of the device and hasn't set a
time frame for when it will be available. Looking ahead, the company
envisions a world in which a cellphone is at the center of managing a
patient's care.

"The individual becomes the point of care, not the doctor or hospital,"
says Jose C. Lacal, senior manager of the company's MotoHealth project.
"This cellphone is the only electronic device on you and on 24 by 7."
According to Mr. Lacal, the cellphone someday will serve as the hub that
delivers health information, advice and medical assistance.

"I think the technology would be very welcome," says Robert Rizza,
president-elect of the American Diabetes Association. "It's very
difficult to keep track of blood-glucose concentration."

But as with most new things, there will be barriers to adoption. For one
thing, many sufferers of chronic diseases are older and may be less open
to new technology. The companies also will have to convince doctors that
the technology is practical and easy to use, and persuade regulators to
approve it.

Lack of tech savvy among some patients "is a barrier," says Douglas
Knoop, senior medical director at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North
Carolina. It "sort of outstrips the number of people that are interested
or willing to use technology like that." And with concerns about patient
confidentiality on the rise, a device that automatically transmits data
could raise a red flag, noted Mr. Knoop.

But for people like Ms. Furlong, who have to worry about a teenage child
with diabetes, it may be a no-brainer. Ms. Furlong says many would plunk
down the cash if the technology worked as promised. But for others who
don't have severe cases of diabetes or other diseases, it may be a harder
sell.

The cost of the device and the likelihood of insurance coverage are
questions that loom large, says Rodney Ho, 35, who has suffered from
diabetes for more than 20 years. "The devil is in the details," he says.

Write to Donna Fuscaldo at email @ redacted</FO NT>

URL for this article:
http://o nline.wsj.com/article/0,,SB110306338556900137,00.html
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