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Digital house calls? Check your health at home

"Today" show’s food editor Phil Lempert discusses gadgets that tell consumers if their diets and lifestyles are helping them stay fit.

We all want to be healthy. But if doctors can’t give us daily check-ups, how do we know if our lifestyles and eating habits are keeping us healthy or not? Luckily, technology is making it easier for consumers to regularly monitor their own wellness. So even though we may read confusing studies on what foods we should eat (is a low-fat diet really better?), we now have the tools to find out if our diets and daily activities are helping us stay fit and healthy.New technology is giving consumers greater control over their health and wellness. We don’t have to spend countless hours in doctors’ waiting rooms to obtain simple answers on our health—we can do this at home. And as our population ages, these tech advancements will become even more crucial. Here are a few of these new healthcare items:

  • Self-diagnostic kits. Based on an individual’s DNA and lifestyle profile, these applications are used to create personalized nutrition and health assessments. Some supermarket chains are selling these kits to forge better relationships with their customers. Lund Food Holdings, for instance, uses the results to create customized menus for their customers. (For more on these kits, read “New DNA kits to help you manage your health?”)

  • Telemedicine. Using telecommunications technology, doctors can monitor their patients in their homes. Medicare recently launched a study of 2,000 chronically-ill patients using a home-monitoring device called the Healthy Buddy. This appliance lets Medicare recipients respond remotely to their medical professionals’ questions. In turn, with the touch of a button, the caregivers can offer healthcare solutions, identify common problems, and promote positive behavioral changes.

  • Global-positioning-system (GPS) watches. Apple Computer’s cofounder Steve Wozniak’s company, Wheels of Zeus, is working on GPS watches that will be able to monitor Alzheimer’s patients and detect their heartbeat changes.

  • Patient-compliance devices. When modified with Bluetooth technology, Bang and Olufsen’s devices can send data from a patient’s blood pressure cuffs and pill boxes to a centralized care center. And Samsung plans to incorporate check-up devices in their 4G cell phone by 2009. With a data transmission speed of up to 100 megabits per second, the 4G phone is faster than the Internet and, when connected to a call center, will help supply a medical diagnosis based on transmitted health data from the mobile owner. A potential “portable doctor,” the Samsung phone may eventually come equipped to check blood pressure, glucose levels, and much more.

As consumers become more health literate, medical technology devices will become increasingly important. Let the digital house calls begin!Phil Lempert is food editor of the “Today” show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to phil.lempert@nbc.com or by using the mail box below. For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site at .