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'Talking' Medical Devices, Apps Continue to Evolve

Innovations can help people manage their conditions, function in emergencies, keep doctors informed

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Mary Brophy Marcus

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Feb. 18, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- They remind you when it's time to take your medicine, coach you through emergency medical procedures and text you their approval when you eat your veggies.

No, they're not mothers or nurses or family doctors -- they're "talking" medical devices and apps, among other techy health-focused inventions, that help people manage everyday wellness routines, such as taking pills and checking blood sugar levels, as well as dire medical circumstances.

Talking medical device technology isn't new, but more and more device makers are using the technology now to create more patient-friendly products, said Benjamin Arcand, an engineer and product innovator in the medical devices field, and associate director of the innovation fellows program at the University of Minnesota's Medical Devices Center.

Talking portable defibrillators have been around for years, guiding users through the steps of saving a cardiac arrest victim. A new epinephrine pen follows suit -- it calmly instructs a nervous parent or teacher through the injection process to help stop an allergic child from going into anaphylactic shock.

Other high-tech health tools help teach operating room staffers how to assemble the complicated set-ups of rarely used surgical devices. In homes, chatty thermometers tell parents a child's fever reading and an innovative new app lets an expectant mom hear a baby's heartbeat.

"People have been thinking about talking devices for a long time. The technology has been trying to rise up above the surface for a long time," Arcand said. Finally, he said, the technology is sophisticated enough and affordable enough.

"What I think you'll see is user-friendliness is going to go up over time," Arcand said. "About 10 or 20 years ago, we saw this huge bloom of all these medical devices. Now that the industry is maturing and there's more regulation and less funding capital, new device development is slowing down."

He said while the pace of new products entering the market has slowed, better, more updated versions of older ideas are appearing: voice-prompting and voice-activated devices, and better electronic interfaces for patients, and devices talking to other devices.

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