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Smartphones, Videogames Let Public Monitor Health

Smartphones, Videogames Let Public Monitor Health
USC professor Maryalice Jordan-Marsh said people need to change the way they think about the delivery of health care.

While the public’s yearning for health news and information can be seen in the popularity of such TV shows as The Doctors and Web sites such as WebMD, these outlets only hint at the possibilities that technology will have on health care in the near future, according to Maryalice Jordan-Marsh, a professor at the USC School of Social Work.

Already, the Veterans Administration uses smartphones to check on blood-sugar levels and Nintendo Wii videogames measure a person’s fitness. Meanwhile, the United Nations has begun linking rural patients in developing countries to desperately needed doctors thousands of miles away through apps on mobile phones.

On the horizon are cell phone breath analyzers, microscope-phone attachments and a home that prevents slip-and-fall injuries by noting when a person is wobbly.

“If we are to thrive, we need to fundamentally change the way we think about the delivery and interaction in health care,” Jordan-Marsh said.

In her new book, Health Technology Literacy: A Transdisciplinary Framework for Consumer-Oriented Practice, Jordan-Marsh details how the public – health consumers – will be expected to inform and support their own health care decisions and how technology will play an integral role. The book brings health professionals and savvy consumers up to date and provides insight into the future.

“Health is going mobile, to and through your mobile phone,” Jordan-Marsh said. “If we expect people to be in charge of their own health care, we have to reach them where they are willing to pay attention.”

Jordan-Marsh, who started her research decades ago in pediatrics and most recently has been studying gerontology, merged her two interests as she partners with USC School of Cinematic Arts professor Marientina Gotsis in developing “exergames” that can help an obese child or a senior citizen who needs to get into shape after surgery.

One of Jordan-Marsh’s videogame projects with students has resulted in two national awards from the White House as part of first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative. A major health care company is interested in developing another.

The videogames, a project in partnership with the USC School of Cinematic Arts and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, explore how to improve players’ health behaviors and outcomes using fun and education.

“Technology can promote, sustain and restore health,” Jordan-Marsh said. “We want to think ahead, keep people at their current level of health, and for those who are sick or had an accident, we need to restore their health. We can accomplish these goals better by embracing technology.”

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