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Bringing Healthcare Home: Telemonitoring Gains Enthusiastic Demand

Wed, 07/03/2013 - 2:35pm
Melissa Barnes, Associate Editor, MDT

The exciting growth the medical telemonitoring sector has seen recently is impressive. According to Frost & Sullivan, the industry is expected to exceed double the revenues of previous years. The reason for this growth is twofold: necessity and innovation. With a growing population that is living longer and a rising elderly population, the need is apparent. Further cause for growth has come about as a result of rising healthcare costs and diminishing healthcare resources. Not only is the medical industry looking to telemonitoring as an efficient, time and money savings solution, but the devices are also growing in popularity among patients, particularly those with chronic health issues.

The Trend Toward Wearable, Wireless
According to Frost & Sullivan, the top sectors in the telemonitoring market include:

  • Home and disease management monitoring
  • Personal emergency response systems (PERS)
  • Video diagnostic consultation
  • Remote cardiac services

One of the reasons for such outstanding growth in these areas is due to enthusiastic consumer demand. Through telemonitoring, patients now have an opportunity to become more in control of their own personal health. Medical telemonitoring has the possibility of literally putting health and medicine at the patients’ fingertips. This renewed sense of accessibility empowers patients.

One of the most significant research findings is the extent to which the various applications improve medical efficiency and overall access. Patients are given timely access to emergency and general health services and information, doctors are able to more efficiently manage patient care through the possibility of enhancing clinical diagnosis and treatment adherence, and health clinics who participate in the technology have even seen a reduction in drug shortages.

The recent advancements in mHealth technology have opened the doors to a vast array of possible applications. Frost & Sullivan’s recent research into how these applications have developed creates a clear picture of a growing variety of convenient, non-invasive chronic disease management devices, such as:

  • Wireless vital signs monitoring
  • Location-aware telemonitoring systems
  • Blood glucose meters
  • Mobile Holter monitors
  • Asthma management apps

Several notable telemonitoring device patents are in the works at the moment, such as a remote monitoring system for ambulatory patients by Cardiocom, as well as a new mechanism for assisted diagnosis and maintenance of health monitoring systems by Intel-GE Care Innovations. Other major contenders are CardioNet, LifeWatch, Corventis, and Biomedical Systems. The devices are referred to as mobile cardiac outpatient telemetry, or MCOT, which are portable monitors that continuously record ECG data for arrhythmia detection. The real importance of MCOT devices is that they provide persistent wireless communication.

The Latest Devices
The latest devices to hit the telemonitoring market are extraordinary in their technological advancement and specialized in their focus. One such device is the QuietCare from Care Innovations. This device makes use of the latest in motion sensor technology to keep track of daily activity patterns of patients, sending out alerts to caregivers in possible emergency situations. These devices are specialized for the ever-increasing elderly population, which is currently driving the necessity for innovative device technology.

The 2net Platform from Qualcomm Life is another such monitor. This wearable, cloud-based wireless monitor transmits patient data to integral health hub systems.

Other popular implementations of telemonitoring are those designed for use with smartphones. The COWIN ZAO from Sensaris is one such device. This cutting-edge biosensor monitor records vitals and other important physical data. The ZAO is a highly compact and portable monitor that uses WiFi to display data on smartphones, tablets, and other computers. The ZAO weighs a mere 310 grams and has a built-in rechargeable 3.7 V lithium battery and microchip processor.

The highly-integrated and intuitive design of the ZAO is an example of the direction in which successful telemonitoring devices are headed. Where traditionally there was a need for multiple devices to do separate things, the newer devices combine many technologies into one. “By combining existing sensor technologies into a single, all-in-one design, and mastering the latest web-based software technologies, we have been able to create a low-cost, professional-grade solution that is very simple to deploy and use. It is compatible with 90% of the mobile devices sold today and addresses interoperability and security issues using the latest web and mobile technologies,” says Michael Setton, CEO of Sensaris.

Designers of telemonitoring devices have held true to the original needs of the users, which ultimately makes for a more convenient and user friendly end product for the consumer. "It was very important from a patient point of view to use familiar devices that they already use in everyday life. In general, we think that the whole design of the solution is the key for product acceptance—from the user experience to the end-product design," says Setton.

The Future of Telemonitoring
There is no doubt that medical telemonitoring technology is on the rise. However, the telemonitoring sector is not without its own significant challenges.

According to analysts at InMedica, “There are several other hurdles to overcome when implementing a telehealth program and it is the challenge of the vendors to assist the providers in overcoming these.”

Senior research analyst, Mickel Phung, of the Imaging & Healthcare IT team at MRG says, “There is a need to shift patient perception towards comfort with teleconference style consultations. Patients still prefer in-person visitations and direct contact with physicians, which serve as a barrier to widespread adoption of patient-physician telemedicine.”

The challenge facing the telemonitoring industry is an issue that faces designers of telemonitoring devices in particular. Since the industry is so diverse and new, true standards have yet to be set. With any technology of this sort, the main issue of concern for consumers and manufacturers alike is the issue of security and privacy. There is also the question of how to bridge the patient-doctor gap that lies at the root of what telemonitoring strives to solve in the first place. How does one create a product that serves the needs of both the patient, as well as the medical professional, while still upholding a standard of privacy and security? This may be an ongoing issue in many industries, but it becomes particularly important in home health telemonitoring, since a greater amount of consultation is happening long-distance. Perhaps one of the keys to bridging this gap lies in creating devices that are user-friendly, as well as through successfully educating those who implement new medical technologies.

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