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From Fantasyland to Tomorrowland: Wireless Health for Rural Vets

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, June 30, 2010

Learning about the promise of wireless health is like taking a journey through a medical Disneyland, a pathway from Fantasyland ... to Frontierland ... to Tomorrowland.

But nowhere does the potential benefit for wireless health seem more real than in the area of healthcare for our nation’s veterans, three million of whom live in rural areas.

That focused message was delivered loud and clear last Thursday in testimony from more than a dozen high-level technology wonks who appeared before a subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs.

Rural veterans who return to their home towns, the places from which many were recruited, stand to gain the most from this technology as more than one-third must drive over an hour to access healthcare. Moreover they are more likely than their urban counterparts to need care because they have higher rates of severe chronic illness and are also more likely to die prematurely.

In the House testimony, speakers noted that an even higher proportion of vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan—some with brain injuries and other chronic problems that need consistent management—are going home to rural areas where they will be far from the care they need.

Many of the individuals testifying in the Washington, D.C. hearing described a number of helpful wireless applications—once only fantasies—that can now being put into clinical practice to bridge the gap for these vets.

These include brainwave and sleep monitors, calorie use and respiration counters, cardiac pacemakers, glucose reading transmitters, and a “magic carpet” wireless device that measures fall risk as vulnerable seniors walk on a mat. Wireless markers installed during biopsies can help track tumor growth, and give prompt feedback to oncologists wondering whether therapies are having any effect, and the list of promising applications seems to go on and on.

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