Apps for travelers with chronic ailments
Mobile health/medical apps can help you remember when to take medications when crossing times zones or help you find emergency care abroad.
The New York Times
Travelers with chronic ailments such as diabetes or high blood pressure have long struggled to remember when to take their pills as they cross time zones. Or they may have had a hard time finding emergency care in a foreign country or communicating about complicated health conditions.
But there are now a rapidly growing number of mobile health and medical apps that aim to deal with those types of situations.
Travelers can tap into technology before the trip begins, by storing information that can help ensure the right care is delivered if health issues crop up. Some put their medical history, latest EKG, chest X-ray or list of allergies and medications on a flash drive marked with a red cross, and attach it to a necklace, bracelet or keychain.
Those who have had cardiac or other surgery may create a simple image using the free app drawMD for iPad devices that shows the exact location of a stent, for example, or an implant or bypass.
The Transportation Security Administration has a printable card available on its website for those who want to make their medical condition known discreetly to a security agent and discuss or undergo any screenings in private at www.tsa.gov/assets/pdf/disability_notification_cards.pdf">www.tsa.gov/assets/pdf/disability_notification_cards.pdf Medical devices contained in their own bags do not count toward carry-on bag limitations, though not all airport employees know this. Mellanie True Hills, founder of StopAfib.org, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping those living with atrial fibrillation, says she is often stopped by check-in, security or gate agents and told that the machine that helps with her sleep apnea puts her over the carry-on bag limit and that she will have to check one of her pieces of luggage. The agents relent, Hills said, when she produces a laminated copy of the applicable TSA regulation she has printed from the agency's website (www.tsa.gov).
Dr. Robert Glatter, a physician at Lenox Hill Hospital's department of emergency medicine in New York, suggested that travelers with chronic ailments look for specialists and hospitals at their destinations before they leave home.
For those who have not planned ahead but need urgent care, phone apps can help locate nearby medical help. The Emergency Medical Center Locator, a free iPhone app, uses the phone's GPS to find nearby centers.
The app lists nearly 2,400 medical centers in 101 countries, and users can select from six specialty areas, including trauma, eye and cardiac care. While not every medical center is listed, the ones that are have been approved by credentialing societies like the American College of Cardiology.
Time-zone changes can be extra challenging for patients, like those with diabetes, with a 24-hour monitoring schedule. Phone apps such as Glucose Buddy and GluCoMo remind users to track and record their blood sugar levels.
WellDoc's DiabetesManager, available on a variety of mobile and Web-based platforms, provides feedback based on glucose, medication, food and exercise information that patients enter, advising them on the actions they should take to adhere to their treatment plan.
The app RxmindMe Prescription/Medicine Reminder and Pill Tracker for iPods and iPhones does what its name says and reminds travelers when to take their medicine.
Users put in their medication names or search the database, and then specify when they want to be reminded to take them. The app can notify the user when medications need to be reordered, and the device's camera can add a photograph of the pill.
Dr. Myles Druckman, vice president of medical services for International SOS, which assists multinational organizations with customized health plans for their global travelers, said travelers needed to plan what they would do if their trip was extended. He suggested bringing an extra week's supply of medicine. "No one knows when an overnight trip will turn into a multiday volcano-ash delay," he said.
New apps are appearing every week, and they vary in quality. Paul Cerrato, who reviews medical apps as the editor of InformationWeek Healthcare, said, "Some apps have major research behind them and others don't seem to have done their homework." Cerrato recommended that patients consult with their health-care provider to choose the best app for their situation.