Military mulls using cell phones to spread health info

The Defense Department’s Military Health System is pondering how to incorporate cell phones into its health promotion activities.

MHS is considering the use of cell phones to disseminate health information and alerts via text messages, facilitate clinical consultations, and track medications and symptoms, said Dr. S. Ward Casscells, assistant Defense secretary of health affairs.

A U.S.-sponsored AIDS relief effort is already planning to use cell phones in a similar fashion.

The key for Casscells is the fact that more than 250 million people in the United States and 1.3 billion worldwide carry cell phones.

“Those numbers will only grow,” Casscells wrote on a MHS blog this week. “So why not use cell phones to disseminate health information and help people make healthy lifestyle decisions?”

Casscells wrote that PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief established in 2003, recently announced a $10 million public/private partnership to use cell phones in an effort to treat, prevent and educate about HIV/AIDS. The program, called Phones-for-Health, will benefit 10 PEPFAR-supported countries by 2010.

Programs such as PEPFAR’s and the one being contemplated by MHS are being supported by new technologies that provide wireless health care information and monitoring.

WellDoc Communications Inc., based in Baltimore, has a system that prompts diabetes patients to test blood glucose levels at specific times of the day and provides feedback on the results. WellDoc is conducting a yearlong clinical trial at the University of Maryland.

Hello Health, a product from Quebec City-based Myca, provides a cell phone-based service that monitors nutrition, exercise and medical conditions and enables patients to schedule mobile videoconferences with its doctors.

Yet another company, MyRapidMD Corp., a startup based in Marina Del Rey, Calif., provides software for download onto Web-enabled phones that stores vital information and makes it accessible in case of emergency.

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