3 Ways to Digitalize Your Medicine Cabinet

Wireless blood pressure monitors have already hit the market. Artificially intelligent apps are replacing plastic pill reminders for patients in clinical trials or high-risk patient populations. And an emerging nanostrip technology will soon help patients do hundreds of clinical lab tests with a single drop of blood.

If your thermometer is your only digital medical equipment, your medicine cabinet might be clamoring for a makeover. Here are three ways you’ll be able to digitalize your medicine cabinet, as technology advances.

Lose the Old-Fashioned Cuff

My family used to spend at least an hour every holiday obsessing over blood pressure. Every conversation culminated in my grandpa pulling out a cuff from a drawer, where it’d been crammed in with the black air tube wrapped haphazardly around it. For those who dislike clutter, wireless technology lets people track their blood pressure without the hassle of an old-fashioned cuff’s pump or air tube.

The slimmed-down tech version synchs up to your phone or tablet via Bluetooth. All your vital signs get sent straight to your phone. If you’re managing blood pressure, you can track your stats over time, add blood pressure stats from doctor visits, or send your blood pressure numbers to your doctor. Some of the wireless monitor apps let you pull reports in conjunction with data from other wireless health tech, too, such as a wireless scale.

There are several wireless blood pressure monitors on the market. Withings tends to get the most love from the press, but iHealth and Quardio offer monitors, too.

All of them record systolic and diastolic pressures along with heart rate. (For those like me who needed the reminder, systolic pressure is the top number that measures pressure when the heart contracts. The diastolic pressure shows the pressure when the heart’s at rest.) The monitors also let you know whether your blood pressures falls within a healthy range, which the American Heart Association sets as just under 120/80.

Throw Out the Pill Reminders

The AiCure app is slowly making plastic pill reminders obsolete. For patients doing clinical trials or who belong to a high-risk patient population, adhering to a medication plan is important. The app lets patients and their providers monitor pill compliance in a unique way: artificial intelligence.

While artificial intelligence always sounds like it ought to involve a robot, in this case it means an app that’s able to “see” like a human can. The app uses facial recognition to confirm the patient’s identity. Then it hones on the pill, identifying it by its shape, color, and markings. And finally, it makes sure that the pill is actually ingested, so the patient gets the correct dosage he or she needs. After the pill’s swallowed, a handy reminder comes on displaying the time the next dose needs to happen.

The app adapts to the patient. If the patient needs a little more guidance taking the pill—or more frequent reminders—the app responds to their needs.

The patient’s caregiver or clinical trial researchers have access to data about when the patient took pills and if he or she is keeping on track with their medications. Since the data’s in real time, a provider can reach out to patients who aren’t taking their medications to avoid any ill effects of skipping a dose.

Another cool feature is the reward system, which varies depending on the patient. Kids who stick to their medication plan, for instance, might get to watch a cartoon. Slightly older populations could gain free smartphone minutes for staying on course.

Self-Diagnosis with Nanostrip Technology

An emerging technology called the rHealth, which recently won the Nokia Sensing XChallenge, will be able to perform hundreds of clinical lab tests with a single drop of blood. Engineers designed the handheld diagnosis tool especially for those without reliable access to healthcare. (That includes astronauts in space as well as those of us on the ground, thanks to collaboration from NASA.)

When a drop of blood is put into the machine, it mixes with nanostrips, or reagents shrunk down to just slightly larger than a red blood cell. The Red Cross says there’s about a billion red blood cells in two to three drops of blood. That means several nanostrips can fit inside a drop, each one testing something different.

The blood and reagent mix then passes under a laser, which deciphers the nano-sized “test strips” results based on how much fluorescence they give off. Since it doesn’t even take a full second to read a nanostrip, the diagnoses come back quickly.

Right now, the rHealth has about 22 tests in its repertoire, from simple vitamin D levels to HIV tests. As development continues, the goal is to add hundreds more.