AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog

Mobile Healthcare and Monitoring on the Brink of Revolution

Wireless in-home health monitoring is expected to increase six-fold in the next four years. A recent study by InMedica indicates that 308,000 patients were remotely monitored by their healthcare provider for congestive heart failure (CHF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, hypertension, and mental health conditions worldwide in 2012. While congestive heart failure accounts for the majority of remote monitoring, it is expected that diabetes will supplant COPD with the second largest share of telehealth patients by 2017.  It is predicted that more than 1.8 million people worldwide will utilize mobile monitoring in the next four years.

Telemedicine is seen as a significant tool among healthcare providers for reducing hospital readmission rates, track patients chronic disease progression or provide advanced specialized medical treatment to patients in remote areas.  Four main factors are driving the demand for increased use of telemedicine and telehealth; Federal Readmission penalties introduced by the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS);  healthcare providers desires to increase ties to patients and improve quality of care; insurance providers who are looking to increase their competitiveness and reduce in-patient pay-outs by working directly with telehealth suppliers to monitor their patient base; and an anticipation for future increased demand for telehealth services by patients.

Of the billions of dollars spent on health care each year, 75% to 80% of it goes for patients with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma and Alzheimer’s disease.  With rising costs and the anticipated shortage of physicians and healthcare providers over the next decade, utilizing the telemedicine technologies is becoming increasingly important to the routine delivery of medical services and monitoring of chronic diseases.

Even telepsychiatry, the use of secure Web-based video conferencing technology, and ambulatory patients, those who have been diagnosed with a disease at an ambulatory care facility but have not been hospitalized are expected to experience significant increased utilization of telemedicine among healthcare professionals in the next four years.  A plethora of emerging mobile technology, such as wearable wireless monitors to smartphone attachments will offer consumers the ability to track everything from core vital signs to impending heart attacks by discovering problems with heart tissue are on the horizon, offering a revolution in digital medical technology.

Speaking to those resisting the new mobile technology, Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of genomics at the Scripps Research Institute, recently encouraged the medical community to end paternal medicine, where only the physician has access to healthcare information, and to embark on a new beginning where patients own their data.  Dr. Topol compared the new mobile technology to the Gutenberg press and the way it revolutionized the way information was shared throughout the world.

We are embarking into a new era where patients have the mobile tools to better enable them to participate in their own medical diagnoses and treatment.

Evolution / Revolution

After more than two decades in experimental and somewhat limited practice, telemedicine is poised to experience a revolution in use and acceptance by medical care providers and patients alike. The journey since its practical inception has been fraught with challenges, both in the tangible technical arena as well as the human/emotional one, and the pace to this point has been more accurately described as evolution as opposed to revolution.

Significant barriers remain to be removed from the telemedicine pathway to full acceptance as an innovative healthcare delivery model, but many of the once formidable obstacles are rapidly falling by the wayside. Paula Guy, CEO of the Georgia Partnership for Telehealth, says “It’s not about the technology anymore, it’s about applying it… In the next few years, it will no longer be known as telehealth. It’s just going to be the way we do healthcare.” Still, the intangibles are lagging behind in the acceptance curve, the most predominant being the persistent concern for the effects of technology on redefining the doctor-patient relationship.

From the patient standpoint, the level of acceptance is gaining at a quicker pace than that of the doctors and their service provider associates. Greater access to specialized medicine, convenience factors, and the concern for rising healthcare costs have eased the reluctance of patients, who are now accepting lessened one-on-one contact with their care providers, although nobody is predicting this personal interaction will go away for good.

Physician’s reluctance is based in part on a good deal of research that indicates a clinician’s physical presence in the room, along with simple companionate personal consultation, has therapeutic value. There’s also a worry that without face-to-face access to the patient, the physician will miss something important or that over-enthusiasm for telemedicine services will deprive patients of the essential hands-on component of care.

To many, the advantages of telemedicine in terms of bolstering the quality and availability of enhanced medical care must be weighed against the potential harm that could result from patients not having in-person contact with their physicians. The real solution to overcoming this challenge is to discover an optimal intersection of technology and personal, hands on care. It remains just ahead in the evolutionary path of telemedicine, where it can enable a true revolution instead.

Building Better Policy

Over the past several years, studies such as those conducted by the CDC and the National Institute of Health have constantly shown great disparity in levels of healthcare access across America. Particularly for poorer and rural areas, a lack of proper access has historically been extremely costly both in terms of human life and a greater economic impact. Policy makers, government officials, and leaders of health care organizations have recognized this divide, and are focused on identifying and eliminating barriers to patient access to provide a better, more uniform standard of effective healthcare across the country.

Thanks largely to leaps in technology and growing infrastructure, telemedicine is emerging as a highly effective solution with the potential to shape the future landscape of healthcare in America. The innovative, modern solutions offered by the growing telemedicine field combat the logistical challenges of the current state of healthcare, while having been proven to be more cost effective. Now, legislators are finally beginning to see the light.

On a state level, governments that have passed new telehealth legislation have seen positive results across the board. Powerful new applications and techniques have helped simplify and streamline remote patient consultation and monitoring, delivering better care with less economic impact with patient satisfaction rates nearing 100%. A dozen states, including Georgia, are leading the way on acknowledging telemedicine as an effective and efficient solution. So far in 2012, Maryland and Vermont have become the latest states to require private insurance companies to pay for telemedicine services.

The adoption of telemedicine marks a revolution in healthcare that carries great possibility for lasting impact. Creating a legislative environment in which telemedicine can flourish must continue to become a priority in a nation interested in reducing costs and saving lives.