PhotoWhen Apple unveiled its new watch this week, the device had a lot of nifty features that may or may not prove to be crowd pleasers. But one function just might help improve your health.

A sensor in the watch will send a pulse to your wrist every hour, reminding you to stand up. Sitting, after all, has been declared the new smoking, with some studies claiming too much sitting will take years off your life.

It's just one example of how technology is enabling consumers to do more to manage their own health. A pilot program in New England is taking it a step farther.

Video house calls

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is partnering with American Well on a venture that enables patients to engage with their health care provider through online video, instead of showing up at the doctor's office.

It's not exactly new technology, since video chat has been around for some time. But the application is something new, keeping patient and provider connected.

Under the two-year pilot plan the patients and health care providers taking part will stay in touch, consulting on a select number of health conditions, using video visits. The conditions being monitored might include recovery from a concussion, following up on the use of medications, simple wellness coaching or to check in after a procedure or hospitalization.

"Blue Cross is giving its health care providers an innovative tool that provides patients with access to care outside an office setting - including in the convenience of their own homes,"said Ido Schoenberg, MD, Chairman and CEO of American Well.

Other innovations

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) points to 5 recent medical technology innovations that have improved health care.

A hand-held tool approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can tell whether a mole is cancerous, making a biopsy unnecessary.

A technology developed by Autonomic Technologies is a patient-powered tool that blocks nerve signals responsible for migraine and cluster headaches. The tool is still in clinical trials.

Echo Therapeutics is developing a new patient-powered tool for diabetics, allowing them to read blood analytes without needles and without breaking the skin. It looks like an electric toothbrush that removes just enough skin cells to put the patient's blood chemistry within signal range of a patch-borne biosensor.

In a number of U.S. hospitals medical robots continually patrol hospitals on more routine rounds, checking in on patients and managing their charts and vital signs without direct human intervention.

Finally, the Sapien transcatheter aortic valve, made by Edwards Life Sciences, is an alternative to open-heart surgery. It's guided through the femoral artery by catheter from a small incision near the rib cage, proving effective for frail patients unlikely to survive open-heart surgery.

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