February 23, 2007 12:31 PM PST

Digital Cyclone takes medical advice mobile

For a few bucks a month, cell phone subscribers can get emergency medical advice and directions to the nearest hospital with the touch of a button.

Digital Cyclone, a subsidiary of Global Positioning System product maker Garmin, has teamed up with the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research to develop software that provides mobile-phone subscribers with several tools to help them in a medical emergency.

Starting this month, a service called Mayo Clinic InTouch will be available for $2.99 a month on Alltel, Cingular Wireless, Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless networks.

Among its offerings, the new service provides first-aid tips, a symptom checker and health-related video news alerts. The service also provides subscribers with a list of nearby emergency and urgent-care facilities.

Subscribers can enter either their city or ZIP code to search the list of more than 3,800 medical facilities. If they have a GPS-enabled phone, the device can automatically pinpoint the nearest facilities without users having to type in a location.

The pervasive penetration of cell phones today makes them a great public-safety tool, many experts say.

More than 230 million Americans subscribe to cell phone service. And many of these people do not leave home without their phones. As a result, cell phones are often the one device most people have in an emergency. So it should come as little surprise that of the 200 million calls made to 911 operators each year, about a third of them are from mobile phones, according to estimates from the Federal Communications Commission.

Garmin and Mayo Clinic officials see the new software and accompanying service as a way to further extend the usability of cell phones during a medical crisis.

"The Mayo Clinic InTouch program lets cell phone users tap into the expertise of Mayo Clinic at nearly all times--at home, in the office, at a park or in the car," Craig Burfeind, president of Digital Cyclone, said in a statement. "This service provides tremendous peace of mind and possibly life-saving assistance when health concerns arise."

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