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Minding Your Own Medical Business

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WebMD Feature

Batman and James Bond, move over! Real-life guys have access to some pretty incredible gadgets and gizmos of their own, with medical devices being among the hottest of these "smart" products to hit the market.

Recent inventions run the gamut from whimsical and wacky to wise and wondrous. There are exercise and fitness trackers to monitor your daily steps and calculate calories burned. Some download the information onto special web sites that tabulate and calculate and offer advice. There are heart rate monitors, and blood pressure monitors, and fitness planners that show you the path to better health and nutrition. There are watch-size water monitors that keep track of how much water you drink and micro massagers that alleviate eyestrain with magnets and acupressure.

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People with diabetes can even wear a GlucoWatch, a wrist-worn device that helps them keep tabs on blood sugar levels, supplementing but not replacing -- yet -- the accursed fingerstick method of monitoring glucose.

Among the more helpful products are devices that remind patients to take their medication. This is especially important for patients with complicated regimens (like multidrug therapy for AIDS) and for those with memory problems. Some are simple, sounding a tone when it is time to take a pill.

Others, like one being developed at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University, are more complex. The Disease Management Assistance System (DMAS), as it is called, has voice recordings that instruct a patient on what drug to take, what side effects to expect, and what to do about them should they occur.

If the patient doesn't press a button signaling he has taken the drug when scheduled, the device continues to beep periodically. Even better, a physician can download this information to find out how well a patient is complying.

And no more need for Mom to nag you about brushing your teeth -- a new high-tech toothbrush will beep you when it's time to clean the pearly whites, and will make sure you do it the proper length of time.

"Studies show that people dramatically overestimate the amount of brushing time," orthodontist Douglas Ramsay, DMD tells WebMD. Two minutes is optimum, he says.

To help you keep you to that timetable, a new kind of toothbrush will emit a tone every 30 seconds, which alerts the brusher it's time to move on to another quadrant of his mouth.

"That way, it gets you to brush for a full two minutes and distributes brushing time throughout all the teeth," Ramsay adds.

"These microelectronics are built into the toothbrush, so they give people feedback about their use in order for them to regulate their own behavior," says Ramsay, an associate professor at the University of Washington School of Dentistry. It works, he says, because the features are built in to the toothbrush and don't add extra steps for you to remember.

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