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Anytime, Anywhere Health

A wide range of home health gadgets can help people take control of their lives. The only caveat - they must consult doctors and avoid self-medication
twitter-logo E Kumar Sharma   New Delhi     Print Edition: June 30, 2019
Anytime, Anywhere Health
Illustration by Ajay Thakuri

Beware of the silent killers. You could be prone to severe health risks but might not be aware of them until you are on the watch and paying attention to subtle early signs. In India, non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart conditions, high blood pressure (BP), cancer and neurological disorders take a heavy toll, accounting for 60 per cent of all deaths, as per a WHO report. But the good news is that a wide range of home health technologies and healthcare tools are now available to support multipurpose and multigenerational goals, from staying fit to AI/IoT/robot-assisted therapeutic aid/geriatric care to monitoring health conditions for diabetes and cardiac issues that ensure timely alerts and save lives. Most of these health gadgets cost less than round-the-clock in-clinic check-ups. However, self-monitoring is not just about collecting data related to activities and conditions but also communicating the same to your doctor. Here are some home health gadgets and how they can benefit you.

General health: Before we get into specialised care, a quick look at the ubiquitous health wearables and health apps will not be amiss. According to doctors, these can act as timely reminders, helping with fitness, diet, sleep, monitoring of vital signs and other aspects of well-being. By now, most of us have tried an activity tracker or two. There are basic wearable devices like pedometers which measure how far one has walked and cost Rs 1,000-2,000. AI-powered and Wi-Fi-enabled armbands with supporting apps cost a lot more, but here, the algorithms keep looking for warning signs in the data gathered and instantly alert patients and medical professionals. Then there are standalone health apps targeting specific areas. Some are free and can be downloaded on a smartphone. Apps like CureFit, MyFitnessPal and HealthifyMe focus on ensuring physical and mental fitness. Those keen on tracking food intake may try the likes of My Diet Coach. The idea is to get a better calorie and carbohydrate fix. My Pregnancy & Baby Today will connect you to would-be parents while Full Term comes with a contraction timer.

BP and cardiac monitoring: Blood pressure and blood oxygen level often indicate if a person has cardiovascular issues. One can buy a pulse oximeter for Rs 2,000 or so to measure the arterial oxygen level; the purpose is to check how well your heart is pumping oxygen. BP monitors cost between Rs 1,000 and Rs 4,000 depending on their functionality and sophistication. Holter monitors can also be used at home to check irregular heart rhythm. These are small battery-operated devices wherein sticky dots or electrodes connected to portable monitors are put on the chest to record heart rhythm for 1-30 days without any break. In some ways, it is better than a single electrocardiogram, which may not always capture irregular heartbeats. The cost of the device ranges between Rs 5,000 and Rs 14,000 and depends on the span of the test. Implantable loop recorders - tiny devices implanted just under the skin of the chest for long-term remote monitoring - cost around Rs 80,000 for three years, but these are mostly used abroad. Mobile ECG monitoring devices are also available here and cost around Rs 15,000.

Diabetes care: Ambulatory glucose profile (AGP) is a key requirement now as opposed to the traditional finger stick and glucose meter process. Here, a small patch is stuck on the upper arm region so that it can read the blood sugar level for two weeks (around 100 readings a day) and provide fluctuation graphs. Later on, a doctor reads the data using a scanner, analyses it and suggests treatment. As of now, only the professional model of the device is available in India. If you want to check the data yourself, get a reader for the same. But you must consult a specialist for analysis and treatment. Usually, doctors recommend the use of AGP once a year. The device costs Rs 2,000. AGP is available in two formats - a flash glucose monitor priced around Rs 2,000 and a continuous glucose sensor that costs double of that.

Diabetes care is evolving fast and experts like Dr V. Mohan, Co-founder of Dr Mohan's Diabetes Specialities Centre, talk of a move towards smart insulin that works only when the blood sugar level is high. Also, when artificial pancreas device systems hit the market, they are expected to function better than existing insulin pumps. While the latter pumps variable insulin doses to lower blood glucose levels as required, the artificial pancreas will automatically adjust insulin and (occasional) glucagon doses to prevent high and low blood glucose levels, respectively. The significance of artificial pancreas is that it will keep changing the solution to be administered based on the changes in a person's blood sugar level.

Neurology and oncology: Neuro-logical disorders could affect vital body parts such as brain, spine or the nervous system, and cancer is still one of the deadly diseases without any specific cure. The nature of these ailments requires specialist-monitored hospital care and, hence, there are few self-monitoring devices in these fields. Of course, there are procedures such as ambulatory electroencephalogram (EEG) - it measures and records the electrical activity in the brain - but these are best used under a doctor's supervision. Likewise, in cancer care, circulating tumour cells (shed from a primary tumour) can be detected through a simple blood test or a digital PET scan (positron emission tomography uses radiation for imaging cell activities) can detect minimal cancer cells, but none of these would fall under consumer monitoring.

@EKumarSharma

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