Personal health apps

Websites and digital apps can be used for more than making dinner reservations. A multitude of products have been created to help consumers better organize their medical information, and that of their family members, in one secure, online space. These digital tools allow you to store health records, upload information from devices such as a blood glucose monitor or blood pressure cuff, and share information with your health care providers. Some even offer personalized reminders and recommendations.

A number of future-thinking companies provide their employees with access to a portal — or suite — of health care apps as a workplace benefit. These websites allow employees to complete health assessments, get medical advice, find a plan-approved health care provider, and get advice and information on staying healthy. Some companies are even experimenting with e-visits so that employees can "see" the doctor without having to take time away from work.

Home health monitoring

Do you check your blood pressure at home? How do you get your results to your doctor? Home health monitoring makes that easy. Devices such as blood pressure monitors can be connected to the Internet or to video equipment that allows real-time, face-to-face interaction with health care providers. Home health monitoring can be particularly useful for people with chronic diseases, such as heart disease, as well as those who live in rural or remote areas. The benefits are greater convenience, fewer office visits, and easier access to medical care and advice.

Even more exciting is the advent of wearable monitoring systems. These devices are connected through wired or wireless networks to a clinic or monitoring center. These devices can assess sounds, images, body motion, and vital signs such as blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate and pulse, body weight, and blood oxygenation. Devices can also monitor sleep patterns and physical activity.

"Smart homes" take home monitoring one step further. A smart home is equipped with sensors and automated devices designed for remote monitoring, early detection of problems or emergencies, and promotion of safety and quality of life. Such a home might include a sensor system that assesses vital signs and activity and provides security monitoring and response. Smart homes and wearable monitoring devices offer the potential of enabling older adults to live independently, if they prefer, rather than in assisted living facilities.

Doctors talking to doctors

Doctors can also take advantage of technology to provide better care to their patients. One example is virtual consultations that allow primary care doctors to get input from specialists when they have questions about a particular diagnosis or treatment. The primary care doctor sends test results, X-rays or other images to the specialist to review. The specialist can respond electronically or request a face-to-face meeting if needed. In some cases, the specialist may even "see" the patient via video.

The potential of telehealth

While technology undoubtedly has a cool factor, it isn't just fun and games. Technology has the potential to improve the quality of health care and to make it accessible to more people. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has included greater use of technology as one of its "Healthy People 2020" objectives for improving the health of all Americans. Isn't it time to make telehealth work for you?

May. 13, 2011 See more In-depth