From GPS-enabled sneakers to robotic guitar tuners to hospital bedside gaming computers, consumer electronics makers are unveiling their latest innovations this week at the 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The gimmicky nature of most of the products exhibited is interspersed with a variety of healthcare products, ranging from “value-added” gizmos to robust applications.

Among the more robust, Meridian Health (Neptune, New Jersey) is a provider piloting several digital technologies to extend the role of traditional healthcare.

“We have a large aging population in New Jersey, and we would never be able to build enough capacity to manage this group with the traditional model of care, so we’ve extended into the home,” Sandra Elliott, director of consumer technology and service development at Meridian, told Medical Device Daily from the show exhibit.

Elliott said Meridian is evolving its healthcare system with technology to provide seamless connectivity from hospital to physicians and to patients’ homes, particularly enabling seniors and their caregivers to more independently manage their health.

Meridian is starting to use glowing medication pill bottle caps developed by Vitality (Ferndale, Michigan). The smart bottles have a built-in feedback loop programmed by caregivers to remind people when to take their medications. The caps track when medication is taken based on built-in sensors and a system that provides reports to both caregivers and physicians summarizing medication compliance.

“The GlowCaps glow to remind them to take their medication,” Elliott said. “It knows if they took it. If they try to take it again by mistake, it alerts them to that too. It’s not the Holy Grail of medication compliance, but it’s a beginning,” she said.

GlowCaps have a dongle (meaning a specialized connector) that hooks through a phone line and communicates via radio frequency. Cost: $70, plus monthly fee of $20 to $30.

For patients with hypertension, Meridian is employing CalHealth’s (Temecula, California) MouseMD, a new type of blood pressure sensor that is built directly into a standard PC mouse.

“Rather than taking your blood pressure once every three months at the doctor’s office, this is a much more accurate way to measure or manage disease with more frequency,” Elliott said.

The mouse opens up to reveal a finger cuff. Power from the PC blows up the cuff and resulting data can be sent over the Internet to a provider. Cost: $89 to $120.

For patients with Alzheimer’s disease, Meridian is testing Isaac Daniel’s (Miami) new GPS-enabled sneakers with an emergency response service.

The shoes can be programmed to establish safety zones around a person’s homes. If a person with Alzheimer’s goes out of the zone, a cell phone signal is sent directly to the police and whoever else is designated as a call recipient.

“A lot of people are very scared about their loved ones with Alzheimer’s who might wander,” Elliott said. “The shoes use technology similar to OnStar and have a battery that lasts 24 to 48 hours. They communicate via cell towers and satellite power.” Cost: $400 and a monthly fee of $20.

Elliott said Medicare isn’t covering any of these products yet but that Meridian plans to provide a demonstration at a later date after the pilot testing periods are completed.

Another company showing its consumer-centric technology at the Las Vegas show is Spectrum Health (Grand Rapids, Michigan), which has partnered with Cerner (Kansas City, Missouri) and Microsoft (Redmond, Washington) to develop the Cerner Care Console to keep patients informed about their condition while in the hospital. Cerner also has incorporated the use of Xbox 360 retail consoles into the system to offer patients gaming and entertainment diversions while in the hospital.

Spectrum is piloting eight Care Console systems at its 750-bed Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, with plans to add 200 this year.

“We developed this to fully engage the consumers,” said Chris White, a spokeswoman for Spectrum. “More and more physicians are saying they are spending a lot of time with patients deciphering the good from the bad information they get from the Internet. This system is a way to offset that time and improve information delivery to the patients.”

The Care Console:

allows patients to write electronic notes to their physicians with questions about their care;

provides access to health education prescribed by their care team;

provides patients with a pictorial introduction to their healthcare providers and explains their various jobs;

presents patients with an itinerary of their specific events for the day as well as a patient-specific task list.

A price tag for the bedside computers hasn’t been determined.

The entertainment component enables patients to watch live TV, select movies, listen to music, and play Xbox or online games.

Finally, Accton Technology (Taipei, Taiwan) said it will manufacture Home HealthPoint 1500, which also enables independent living for seniors via remote monitoring from their caregivers.

This technology consists of ControlPoint software running in a Home HealthPoint gateway with various sensors in the house. The Portal Server delivers three customized user experiences based on the same data generated within the house: for the senior at home, for remote family members or caregivers, and for remote medical or nursing facilities.

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