By Shawn Riley
The area of health care is no longer contained between the four corners of health and medical institutions and hospitals. Health and clinical issues as well as patient management are now more accessible even as persons are not physically present for treatment, monitoring and check-up. This has become possible with telehealth as well as telemedicine and home patient monitoring technologies that promise to deliver great results and more efficiency in terms of health care.
The Wonder of Telehealth and Telemedicine
Telemedicine is a branch of clinical medicine that caters to the transfer of medical information through interactive audiovisual media for purposes of consultation and remote medical procedures. Telehealth on the other hand functions similarly with telemedicine as it has been referred to as the delivery of health-related information and services with the use of telecommunication technologies. However, while telemedicine focuses on the curative aspect the role of telehealth encompasses preventive and promotional aspects in addition to curative aspects.
A Peek at Functions/Roles of Telehealth Technologies
Just some of the clinical uses of telehealth technologies are as follows:
- Transmission of medical images for diagnosis (also referred as store and forward telehealth
- Exchange of health services or education through videoconferencing (i.e. real time telehealth)
- Transmission of medical data for diagnosis or disease monitoring ( also known as remote monitoring)
- Prevention of disease and promotion of good health through advice
- Health advice through telephone or also known as teletriage
While on the other hand some of the non-clinical uses of telehealth technologies include the following:
- Distance education most specifically medical and patient education
- Administrative uses such as during telehealth networks and presentations
- Telehealth research
- Overall health care system management
- Patient movement and remote admission
Home patient monitoring technologies: How It has changed Patient Care Forever
Telehealth and telemedicine flourished in America at around the later part of the 1980’s and since then has continuously evolved to cover wide areas towards better patient management and in absencia care. Its demand is on full swing in recent years especially among home care agencies, disease management companies and clinical trial groups. Just some of the catalysts and home patient monitoring technologies available in today include:
- Low energy Bluetooth
- Near field communication (NFC)
- Body area networks
- Mobile to machine communication networks
- Secure data management
- Bed sensor panel integrating ultra wideband radar
- Wireless sensor platforms
This has been made even possible through the participation of leading market giants such as GE, IBM, Microsoft, Philips and Siemens.
Analysts noted that commercialization has shifted the delivery of health care from a hospital centric to a patient centric approach. They have also observed that there is a gradual increase of telehealth and remote patient monitoring products not only in the US, Europe and Japan but also in emerging markets such as China, India and South Asian countries. This has become more possible because of available government funding as well as from venture capital firms.
Emerging Patient Monitoring Products: Pro’s and Con’s
The continuing demand towards telehealth facilities spawned the creation of acts endorsing the use of patient monitoring technologies such as the Remote Monitoring Access Act of 2007 which offered financial incentives for such solutions that efficiently manage chronic diseases under the Medicare Program. More and more major companies as well as investments have also consolidated towards the development of wireless end to end health and wellness solutions.
However, there have been major issues and barriers towards a large-scale customer adoption and these include the following:
- Absence of wide scale reimbursement
- Lack of standardization
- Lack of global regulatory policies governing technology usage
- Low awareness levels among patients
- Issues surrounding security of patient data also contribute to delay in adoption lifecycle
- There is no specific codes assigned to telehealth and Mhealth solutions
Some Noteworthy patient monitoring technologies
The following are just some of the recently developed remote patient monitoring technologies and products:
- Health Buddy System – developed by Robert Bosch. It is an intelligent system that focuses on measuring vital signs and fosters patient self management by asking sensible questions and providing feedback on patient health behavior.
- Ultra low power sensing hardware architecture, computation and communication for extending overall battery life – ongoing development and technological advancement
- High performance medical sensors for easy integration to wireless networks – ongoing development and evolvement
Major Reason for increase in home health patient monitoring technologies
The major reason that has brought about the continuous demand for these technologies (according to medical and health experts) is attributed to the aging population and the elderly people. Since the elderly population are more prone to chronic diseases and ailments they are in dire need of an effective home health monitoring as compared to being admitted in institutions which can be very expensive.