Cellphone checks your health before it calls 911

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Would you pay $80 a month to monitor the glucose levels of your elderly diabetic mother, especially if the cellphone she carried not only administered the test but alerted you, her doctor and even an ambulance if something went terribly wrong?

The next evolution in cellphone technology won't be about downloading music, video or even advertising. No, the ubiquitous, often annoying cellphone is going to do something indisputably good: save lives via medical monitoring.

"There is going to be an explosion of the use of wireless technology in health care," said Greg Raybuck, VP-sales and marketing at CardioNet, a San Diego-based medical technology firm that has wired more than 35,000 cardiac patients with a cardiac monitoring service that transmits data using the Sprint wireless network for at-risk cardiac patients.

Although the PDA-like device used by CardioNet patients sends and receives text messages, it is not a cellphone-yet. "This is just the first generation of the technology," Mr. Raybuck said.

By early 2006, privately held CardioNet plans to reintroduce the monitoring device with cellphone capabilities. It won't be a typical cellphone, though, and will operate on a restricted basis, taking calls from a patient's physician, CardioNet's call center or a 911 dispatcher. CardioNet developed the device in conjunction with Qualcomm, the $6 billion maker of digital wireless products, which itself is spending millions on research developing its own line of health phones.

Paul Hedtke, senior director of business development at Qualcomm, said "There are companies dabbling in this, but tend to be small startups," noting that "we are looking to take this big time with name brands and big companies that have the wherewithal to put this all together. As a cellphone technology maker, we are trying to drive the cellphone in every aspect of your life."

Mr. Hedtke said health cellphones should hit the market within two years, thanks in large part to the increasingly smaller size of digital health devices like diabetes glucose and asthma testers.

Like CardioNet, Qualcomm sees an opportunity to reach a new audience of cellphone user. "Among the 70 and older set it drops off pretty fast," Mr. Hedtke said.

Mr. Raybuck at CardioNet said he sees demand for more monitoring services around a variety of health conditions as almost unlimited. "Demographics are on our side," he said. "We certainly know that the baby boomers are out there and prevention is now seen as the best way to stay healthy."

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