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Turn on your Game Cube to visit your doctor
The Associated Press
SEATTLE — A visit to your doctor could soon be as easy as picking up your cellular phone or turning on your Nintendo Game Cube.
A doctor at the University of Washington is working with game developers to create an interface that reaches young people with diabetes where they are: on the phone or playing video games.
Dr. Harold Goldberg, 56, an admitted gadget geek and parent of two young adults, said the Game Cube interface is a logical next step from his work with adult diabetes patients through their desktop computers.
Goldberg said he's been interested in technology ever since his medical school days at Stanford in the late 70s.
When he arrived in Seattle in 1986 to run the clinic at Harborview Medical Center, which is part of the university medical center, Goldberg started championing medical computing improvements in his spare time.
The idea may not be all that popular with insurance companies unwilling to spend extra money on chronic health care. But helping people manage chronic health conditions themselves is the next big thing in the medical world, according to Goldberg and his supporters at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Only a fraction of Americans with Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which often to go together, have all three under control.
"If you fast forward 10 to 15 years, when these patients start getting their heart attacks and strokes ... you're talking about morbidity and mortality of a third of the U.S. population," Goldberg said.
But there's a positive statistic that is also associated with this group. By the time, their diabetes gets critical, their access to the Internet will also reach saturation.
Goldberg and three grad students are working with six industry partners, including Nintendo and game designer Realtime Associates of El Segundo, Calif., to create a new medical interface.
Lance Barr, product design director at Nintendo, in Redmond, Wash., across Lake Washington from the university, agreed that health care is not the game company's bread and butter, but the company has for many years made some little-known forays into the field.
For example, Nintendo created a hand-free controller a few years ago that allows people with disabilities to play video games. They also put together a "fun center" that moves a Game Cube and a DVD player around hospitals on a rolling cart for patient entertainment.
Barr said he got involved in Goldberg's project a few years ago when the doctor called to ask if Nintendo might be interested. "We all live in the same community here. We like to give back to the community," Barr said, adding that he has a personal interest in health care because his wife is a mobile pharmacist and they have a son who is fighting leukemia.
"We spend a lot of time in and out of the hospital. I can appreciate somebody being at home, going to the doctor a lot and just needing that extra communication with the health care worker," Barr said. "In the end, what we're trying to do here is let technology improve people's lives."
Barr added his the development team also enjoys working on products "outside the norm," and he expects the engineers and designers helping Goldberg will learn something to help the company with its more commercial ventures.
Similar to the approach Goldberg took with the desktop computer interface, diabetes patients will test their own blood sugar and blood pressure using digital devices that can be connected to a computer, Game Cube or another Internet-ready device like a smart phone. The information will be automatically sent to the doctor's office.
The computer interface, which is in the very early stages of development, will quiz the patients on other medical issues, such as diet and exercise, could send reminders to teens to check their blood sugar and medical professionals will send feedback to the patients through the same system.
It will be similar to the way some doctors keep track of their patients through the telephone, but hopefully more fun and more efficient, Goldberg said.
It's a big improvement from seeing people with diabetes four times a year. Goldberg said most diabetes sufferers check their blood sugar and blood pressure about four times a year: the day before they go to see the doctor.
He said researchers working on other chronic illnesses have asked him if his Web-based interface will help their patients as well. "The problem of fixing chronic disease care in this country is a huge one. I think it's a medical story of the millennium," Goldberg said.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company