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Wireless makes house calls

Doctors may not make many house calls anymore, but an online pharmacy is making sure they can visit a cell phone at a moment's notice.

Doctors may not make many house calls anymore, but a struggling online pharmacy is making sure they can visit a cell phone at a moment's notice.

Smartmeds.com has begun offering a way to have reminders about taking medications beamed directly to cell phones, but only if the phones are capable of receiving text messages.

Anybody can sign up for the service using the company's Web site. The company also partners with 70 health maintenance organizations, which may also offer the service in the future.

The medical industry has been among the first to take to wireless devices and the potential they possess. Doctors share information about patients through wireless networks at some hospitals. Some companies are working on ways to put a patient's information onto a small bar code worn around the wrist, ending mistakes made in filling out form after form.

The Smartmeds program is among the first of the new wireless tools that can be used directly by a consumer, analysts point out.

However, anyone with a PalmPilot or other personal digital assistant can create similar personal reminders, said Ovum Research's David Bradshaw. People can, for instance, tell their e-mail providers to send these same types of reminders to their handhelds on a regular basis, he said.

There are also more primitive ways of doing this. Bradshaw said that a co-worker of his that has Parkinson's disease simply sets a timer on his wristwatch for the times he needs to take the life-saving pills.

"One of the things that bothers me about this business model is the person who needs a reminder doesn't necessarily carry a PDA," Bradshaw said. "I do think this is a smart use of this technology, though."

The program is also limited to a small customer base--those who possess phones capable of receiving short text messages. While these types of phones are big in Europe and Asia, they are just making it to the United States, analysts say.

Smartmeds Chief Executive Dan Rosen has hopes for the service despite some of its drawbacks. He said some of the HMOs that Smartmeds works with are testing the service for possible use in the future.

"So much money is wasted in health care based on people not taking their medications properly," he said. "There's a big world out there of people who don't have PDAs and sync them up."

He said the service was limited to cell phones for a reason. A lot of people have cell phones and know how to use them. Eventually, he said, the service will be expanded to involve some PDAs as well.

Customers can sign up for the service through the company's Web site. A customer has to provide a number of personal details beyond their medical history, including a home phone number and a home address.

The service will then send a short text message to the person's cell phone whenever it's time to take a pill.

The person receiving the alert has to send Smartmeds a message back that they've taken their medications. The home phone numbers and addresses are necessary because if a certain period of time passes, and there is no response, it's possible that medical authorities could be sent to a person's home, Rosen said.

On Monday, the company's parent, Infutech, received a delisting notice from the Nasdaq stock market, where its stock has been hovering above one point. Also, its largest shareholder has filed for bankruptcy protection.