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Wireless can transform health care, doctor says

Wireless devices will create a sea change in the way medicine can be practiced, a top U.S. doctor said at the CTIA conference in Las Vegas.

Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, showed off a number of medical devices that use wireless technology. In addition to his role at Scripps, Topol is involved with a new wireless health care institute that was launched in San Diego.

The new wireless offerings will be “transformative for health care,” he said. “They represent a sea change in the way medicine can be practiced.”

He showed a wide range of applications and devices that can often help people with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes. The WellDoc mobile-phone application coaches diabetics on diet and exercise.

The PillPhone is a mobile-phone application that reminds people to take their medicine and notifies a caregiver if the person doesn't take it. Such an application could be particularly useful with the treatment of tuberculosis. Of the 2 billion people infected with the disease today, nearly all could be cured if they stick to a six-month course of medication, Topol said.

While onstage, Topol placed a flat device resembling an adhesive bandage against his chest and showed the audience in real time his heart rate and electrocardiogram displayed on his iPhone. The device wirelessly transmitted the data to the phone.

Such an application could be useful in monitoring people with heart problems.

Another type of smart adhesive device can track the calorie intake of someone wearing it. One that Topol uses is disposable and can be worn for a week.

The applications he showed can be used to help people before they get to the hospital, while they're at the hospital and once they're discharged. He displayed a photo of a typical patient in intensive care, surrounded by a “spaghetti of wires.” In the future, that will be replaced by a wristband that the patient wears to monitor vital signs and transmit the data to a nurse who can check the data on a similar type of wristband.

Patients released from the hospital could use a wireless stethoscope to transmit the sound of their heart to a remote doctor, Topol said.

The wireless health care institute aims to accelerate the era of wireless medicine, he said. In addition to funding from Scripps, the institute was funded by chip maker Qualcomm and philanthropists Gary and Mary West.

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