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High-Tech Doctor’s Bag

From Wii games to smart phone blood sugar monitors, technology is poised
to change health care, getting patients more involved.

The Department of Veterans Affairs uses smart phones to check on blood sugar levels. Nintendo Wii video games measure players’ fitness. Using mobile phone apps, the United Nations links rural patients in developing countries to desperately needed doctors thousands of miles away.

These innovations only hint at the possible impact that technology will have on health care in the near future, according to Maryalice Jordan-Marsh of the USC School of Social Work.

On the horizon are cell phone breath analyzers, microscope phone attachments, and wise homes that prevent slip-and-fall injuries by noting when a resident 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 says.

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 both 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 predicts. “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 recently has been studying gerontology, merged her two interests by partnering with USC School of Cinematic Arts Professor Marientina Gotsis to develop “exergames,” which can help obese children who need to lose weight or senior citizens recovering from surgery.

One of Jordan-Marsh’s video game projects with students, called Trainer, earned 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 of the projects.

The video games, developed with the School of Cinematic Arts and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, harness fun to improve players’ health behaviors.

“Technology can promote, sustain and restore health,” Jordan-Marsh says. “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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