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  Mobile phones help cardiac rehab
Sneaking extra butter on your toast may get harder for cardiac patients under an Australian trial that will see nurses monitoring them via a mobile phone.

The project is part of an initiative aimed at increasing the number of cardiac patients that complete rehabilitation after surgery.

The trial, being run by the CSIRO's Australian E-Health Research Centre (AEHRC) and Queensland Health, uses a mobile phone to collect and send health-related information about patients' activities at home to a central computer.

About 200 patients and a series of medical mentors based in three Brisbane hospitals will be involved in the trial.

AEHRC chief executive officer Dr Phil Gurney says less than 20% of patients treated for a heart attack complete the recommended six-week rehabilitation program.

Gurney says one of the main reasons for the high drop-out rate is the need for patients to return regularly to the hospital to undertake the rehab program.

He says, their location, a need or desire to return to work, or even personal and family commitments can make it difficult for them to schedule appointments, he says.

Gurney says under the program being trialled, CSIRO is testing whether modern communications technology can be used as an assessment tool in home-based management of medical conditions.

"We are largely using technology that is available, but we have customised it to our purposes," says Gurney.
Data collector

The mobile phones include an inbuilt accelerator that measures physical activity such as the number of steps walked. The patients also use the phone to record data from blood pressure monitors and scales.

Participants are encouraged to take photos of meals they eat or videos of themselves exercising, and use an electronic diary on the phone to record observations about their stress levels, diet, smoking and alcohol intake.

The information is sent to a central computer where it can be viewed by a mentor, who assesses the patient's behaviour, provides feedback and sets new goals.

Gurney says although the median age of participants is 63, most patients have no problem understanding the technology involved.

"Anyone who can use a mobile phone can do this," he says.

"We tried to take advantage of what technology is available because we want to get it out to as many people as possible and be cost effective."

He says a small subset of the group is also trialling home use of a heart-rate monitor while exercising. The data is transferred to the phone automatically via Bluetooth.

Gurney says the trials should be completed by June next year.

He says it is hoped the home-based program will cost the same or less than hospital rehabilitation.

If successful the approach could be used by patients who live in remote areas or have commitments that make hospital visits difficult, says Gurney.
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