At the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which combines the newest and hottest trends in technology with the temptations of Sin City, health may seem like the last thing on anybody's mind.
But at this year's event, health took center stage when Bastyr University alumnus Andrew Brandeis, ND ('08), introduced the iHealth Blood Pressure Dock during the Mobile Showdown, which featured 10 of the hottest trends in smartphone technology.
Brandeis is the spokesperson and medical consultant for iHealth Labs, and he says his experiences at Bastyr University (where he was the 2008 graduation speaker and editor of a student newspaper) helped him learn how to use his public voice.
"My career as a public speaker for mobile health is just budding but my interest in public speaking developed at Bastyr," Brandeis says.
Now he splits his time between his work as a private practitioner in San Francisco with his work promoting iHealth's first product, which allows users not only to monitor and easily track their blood pressure, but also to share that information via email, Facebook or Twitter with their doctor, as well as with friends and family who can act as a support network.
"Being able to share your blood pressure with your network can give you really positive feedback," Brandeis says. "That's an important part of making lifestyle changes."
For instance, if you go out with friends for beer and burgers but you opt for a salad and water, initially your buddies might tease you, Brandeis says. But if you go home and share with them that your blood pressure is trending downward, the teasing could quickly transform into support.
"If they get a clue that these unhealthy lifestyle behaviors really do affect your health, they'll say, 'I'm going to support him and invite him out for a salad rather than a beer'," Brandeis says.
The iHealth Blood Pressure Dock combines hardware, including a docking station and a blood pressure cuff, with a free mobile application for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Together they give you the ability to monitor your blood pressure throughout the day, allowing you to determine what activities are helpful or harmful.
"If you empower people to understand and monitor their personal health, they're more likely to be engaged in it," Brandeis says.
Brandeis says the app can be particularly useful to people who are struggling with or are at risk of high blood pressure, but who would prefer making lifestyle changes rather than taking medications.
"I care about treating the cause of illness, not medicating symptoms," Brandeis says.
Rather than medicating symptoms, he explains that monitoring your blood pressure throughout the day allows you to treat the cause if you experiment with different ways to lower it, such as through diet or stress-reduction techniques.
In his own experiments, Brandeis says he has watched his blood pressure spike after drinking a cup of coffee, then fall after spending time doing yoga or meditating. To maintain a more consistent, lower blood pressure, he tries to add more activities to his lifestyle that noticeably benefit his blood pressure both long term and short term.
With iHealth already planning additional smartphone attachments to monitor blood glucose and weight, Brandeis says this is just the beginning of a revolution in mobile health advances.
"Health care is changing so rapidly," he says, "but health technology is 10 years behind any other industry."
That was evident to Brandeis even when he was a student at Bastyr, which led him to create Medfinds, a website that helps people around the U.S. and Canada find and rate natural medicine providers.
Now he'd like to create another database for doctors to compile trends in health care, allowing them to more easily track illnesses, treatments and results both regionally and globally.
"Doctors could have more targeted therapy based on patients' demographics if we could just share information that we're collecting every day," Brandeis says. Such a database could also help natural health providers more easily evaluate natural therapies, he adds.
"If you can have doctors collaborating on treatment efficacy it could be a model that helps evaluate alternative therapies," he says.
And he says there's plenty of room for other natural medicine doctors to join the growing field of health technology.
"We need anybody in the alternative healing arts to embrace these kinds of technologies and work together as a community," Brandeis says. "I think that's where the future's heading."