You?ve Heard of ?Doc in the Box?, Ford is Exploring ?Doc in the Car?

Ford has come up with yet another new feature for its SYNC? connectivity system ? in car health care.? Based on the American obsession for wellness, Ford engineers are developing a series of health and wellness solutions designed to give occupants the ability to gather self-help health information while they drive.

Taking advantage of the SYNC system?s ability to connect devices via Bluetooth, access cloud-based Internet services and control smartphone apps, Ford is developing industry-first voice-controlled in-car connections to an array of health aids from glucose monitoring devices, diabetes management services, asthma management tools and Web-based allergen alert solutions.

According to a recent survey conducted by CTIA-The Wireless Association and Harris Interactive, for example, some 78 percent of U.S. consumers expressed interest in mobile health solutions. A recent study by digital messaging powerhouse MobileStorm further confirmed this phenomenon, indicating that medical and healthcare apps was the third fastest-growing category of smartphone applications in early 2010. The major app stores, such as the Apple App Store, are now housing upward of 17,000 available health apps for download, with nearly 60 percent of those aimed at consumers rather than healthcare professionals, reports mobile research specialist Research2Guidance.

?Wireless health provides an unprecedented ability for monitoring and promotion of health and wellness for all individuals,? said UCLA Electrical Engineering Professor William Kaiser, who has worked with NASA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security?s Science and Technology Directorate to study how wireless health technologies can be used to track an individual?s fitness and health status and help identify potential risks and challenges. ?Studies show wireless health empowers people with information and guidance that can directly address the most important health concerns.

?The new Ford health and wellness connectivity solutions represent a fundamental advancement for these individuals,? Kaiser added, ?providing them additional support and functionality during time spent in the vehicle.?

Ford plans to first address two health problems that require two health problems that require constant connection to potentially life-saving medical information? people with diabetes and those with asthma and/or allergies.

According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 26 million adults and children are currently living with diabetes in the U.S., 3-plus million more than there were four years ago. Numbers grow even higher for those with asthma and allergies, with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America reporting some 60 million Americans have asthma and/or allergies.

To create relevant in-car features and services for those living with these ailments, Ford is working with experts in these fields, including medical device manufacturers, healthcare management service providers and Web-based medical alert services.

?Ford?s approach to health and wellness in the vehicle is not about trying to take on the role of a healthcare or medical provider, we?re a car company,? said Gary Strumolo, global manager, Interiors, Infotainment, Health & Wellness Research, Ford Research and Innovation. ?Our goal is not to interpret the data offered by the experts, but to work with them to develop intelligent ways for Ford vehicles using the power of SYNC. In essence, creating a secondary alert system and alternate outlet for real-time patient coaching services if you will.?

For people with diabetes and their caregivers, constant knowledge and control of glucose levels is critical to avoiding hypoglycemia or low glucose, which can cause confusion, lightheadedness, blurry vision and a host of other symptoms that could be dangerous while driving. Many now depend on a portable continuous glucose monitoring device to track their levels.

Likewise, those with asthma and allergies need to have a clear understanding of their environment and potential symptom triggers ? such as pollen levels in the air ? that can quickly lead to an attack. Growing in popularity among this group are Web-based alert services and smartphone apps that can help flag dangerous pollen levels based on location.

Although still in the prototype and research phase, Strumolo acknowledges that many of the health and wellness features and services being explored at Ford have fairly short-term implementation requirements, such as the Allergy Alert app.

Ford is also examining other more long-term health and wellness technologies and ideas related to, for example, heart rate, relaxation and reducing stress. Ford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have long been studying the correlation between stressors and driving performance, wrapping up a nine-month advanced research project last fall that showed drivers are less stressed when using selected vehicle technologies such as Ford active park assist and cross-traffic alert.

?Health and wellness provides a tremendous opportunity for Ford to provide peace of mind and a personal benefit to drivers and passengers while they are in our vehicles,? said Strumolo. ?As more and more devices and technologies lend themselves to such connectivity in the car, it is our responsibility, our philosophy, to examine those possibilities and open our doors to industry relationships that can help us do it intelligently, efficiently and economically.?

 

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