Travelers with chronic ailments like 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. For travelers who prefer traditional communicating, a laminated card can list important information and physician contacts.
• Medical devices contained in their own bags do not count toward carry-on bag limits, though not all airport employees know this. Carry a laminated copy of the applicable TSA regulation printed from the agency's website to avoid problems.
• 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. The medical centers listed 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 like Glucose Buddy and GluCoMo remind users to track and record their blood sugar levels.
WellDoc's DiabetesManager, available on 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 iPads 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.
• For travelers who put all their pills in a plastic bag instead of taking separate pill bottles (this is not recommended) the free app Epocrates can help identify them by taking the user through a list of questions about the pill's color, shape and markings. The app can also be used to double-check the identification of any pills received on the road or review possible side effects or drug interactions.
• Apps are also available for doctors in case they are called upon to provide curbside or in-plane assistance. Eye Chart can help evaluate patients who complain about their vision and uHear about their hearing. NeuroMind can take physicians through a series of questions to help diagnose a patient who has had a head trauma or is unresponsive.
• While most of the medical apps today record, remind and refer, the future holds more diagnostic uses like the iBGStar Blood Glucose Monitoring System, which features a small meter that plugs directly into the iPhone or iPod Touch. Patients insert a test strip into the meter to take a blood sugar reading, and the information is synced with the app.
• Another is a blood pressure cuff that can attach to a smartphone. Both can send results to a physician from a hotel room or meeting across the world.
New apps are appearing every week, and they vary in quality. Paul Cerrato, the editor of InformationWeek Healthcare, recommended that patients consult with their health care provider to choose the best app for their situation.
"These apps are really game changers," Cerrato said, "for everyone."