Technology could fundamentally improve patient outcomes and quality of care across the medical field as it can benefit all patient population locations – onsite (e.g., in hospitals and clinics), within the home, and remote regions (e.g., less populated areas and in developing countries).
The big picture
Trend #1. The world population is aging. People are living longer and enjoying good health, but many are also living longer with chronic diseases, which puts a strain on healthcare systems and resources. The disease burden associated with a growing elderly population requires a large and diverse healthcare workforce that can effectively and efficiently diagnose and treat patients with complex medical conditions.
Remote home monitoring continues to boost patient engagement with their overall health and adherence to provider recommendations for managing their chronic medical conditions.
Trend #2. The increased focus on value-based care is shifting financial incentives to a healthcare model, where providers are compensated based on how their patients fare, rather than by the number of tests, visits, or procedures performed. It is about the quality of care, not the quantity.
This is where new devices and technology could make a substantial impact, and, in some cases, already are.
Trend #3. Some industry analysts believe that big data is fueling the healthcare industry’s biggest trends – precision medicine, predictive analytics, and machine learning (according to an article in Health IT Analytics).
Patient-specific data is increasingly available through a new generation of devices and applications that collect information through wearables, home monitors, and smartphones.
From the report, A focus on data in the coming years has the potential to make healthcare more preventive, predictive, and personalized, and meaningfully reduces healthcare costs and leads to better patient care.
Big data allows medical providers and healthcare professionals to accumulate and analyze a much larger population base and assess huge volumes of new data, opening new areas for research and treatment opportunities. Again, remote-monitoring systems can help collect this information and play a role in boosting analysis of this healthcare-related big data.
Trend #4. The clinical application of wearable medical devices is evolving rapidly as technology companies are partnering with healthcare organizations to help patients and clinicians make better decisions. Consider some of the following applications:
- Remote monitoring of sleep and vital statistics for bedridden patients.
- Gloves with Bluetooth sensors help stroke patients with neurological and musculoskeletal injuries regain mobility in their hands.
- Painless and accurate glucose monitoring.
- Continuous temperature-monitoring devices (such as chest straps) can be used for babies and young children, postoperative patients, cancer patients, and seniors.
- Headband and/or ear buds measure discomfort in the user’s electroencephalography (EEG) system for better pain management.
- Personalized, AI-based wearable technologies learn about the user; for example, smart watches that recognize and normalize sleep apnea, dangerous health condition.
- Smart glasses that help the blind by talking them through challenging situations.
Though many new devices are being developed, there remains a challenge to ensure the devices can aggregate and share data, as well as communicate reliably and securely.
Be a part of health technology innovations
Key healthcare trends will continue to strengthen remote patient monitoring and reveal new opportunities for growth. That translates into new challenges for companies to design and create solutions based on advanced sensor technology. As important as the relationships between patients and healthcare professionals are, a doctor or nurse cannot be in the room with each patient at all times, even in a fully-staffed hospital. As such, a variety of electronic monitoring equipment is generally available to monitor such metrics as the electrical activity of the heart, respiration rate (breathing), blood pressure, body temperature, cardiac output, and the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.
Some emerging trends that are changing the way doctors, nurses, and staff keep track of the physical status of patients, and, in some cases, even interact with them.
Wireless sensor technology. The iconic image of a hospital patient is a frail figure lost in a tangle of wires and cables connected to large, noisy machines. Those wires and cables are beginning to be replaced by wireless technologies like those that have cleaned up the thicket of cables in our office workstations. But for more personal needs of healthcare, that technology is becoming wearable. ABI Research estimates the market as five million disposable, wearable, medical sensors in 2018. In addition to increasing the comfort of patients and enabling staff to more easily assist and move them, wireless improves the devices in their main function – alerting staff to changes in vital signs.
Remote patient monitoring. But what about outpatient care? With aging population, the need for monitoring patients wherever they live, and work is increasing, as then the need to stay in expensive hospital reduces. Telehealth, or remote transmission of a patient’s medical data is one solution. Home medical devices that assist with the treatment of chronic illnesses are already commonplace, but now they are being integrated with distant healthcare facilities to track patient health and set off alarms when dangerous situations arise.
Use of big data. Combine the ability to track information on patient health with the explosion in the number-crunching capacity of advanced computer networks, and you have access to a treasure trove of knowledge for medical research and treatment. For example, big data can help identify patients who are susceptible to specific conditions and prescribe preventive measures to head them off. On a larger scale, big data will apply everything from weather data to the tracking of infectious diseases to make funding and staffing decisions.
Electronic patient portals. Interoperability is the key to a range of ongoing and potential improvements in our healthcare system. Electronic health records (EHRs) are just the beginning. The goal is for doctors, nurses, patients, family members, researchers, and insurers to share useful medical data. The implications for privacy are numerous and worrisome, but so are the consequences of not seizing this opportunity to save lives and improve quality of life. A central hub for sharing information could include content management, member profiles, blogs, discussion boards, jargon glossaries, gamification, connection with social services, and support groups. This holistic approach could create communities of healthcare awareness to provide people with knowledge, support, and the feeling that they are not alone.
Role of IoT for remote monitoring and healthcare applications
Devices today monitor many types of patient behaviors and conditions (e.g., glucose monitors, fetal monitors, electrocardiograms, and blood-pressure monitors). Today, while patients still need to often follow up with a physician, the smarter monitoring devices of tomorrow may change that. For instance, some smart devices today can detect if medicines are being taken regularly, such as smart dispensers. If not, they can initiate a call to a care provider to ensure the patient is properly medicated. The possibilities offered by the healthcare IoT (Internet of Things) to lower costs and improve patient care are almost limitless.
Most would agree, that the internet has changed everything. Now, many believe the IoT will change everything yet again. IoT will eventually allow patients and providers to work together for more effective chronic disease management, deeper engagement, and more open communication.
By integrating IoT functionality into medical devices, the technology promises to greatly improve the quality and effectiveness of healthcare, bringing especially high-value care to the elderly, patients with chronic conditions, and those requiring constant supervision. There is a growing interest in IoT-driven healthcare services and wearable medical devices that feature sensors, actuators, and other mobile communication methods to allow patient data to be continuously monitored and transmitted via cloud-based platforms. These devices can alert doctors and nurses of important changes in vital signs.
These and other developments in healthcare technology will provide more comprehensive, uninterrupted attention to patients. At the same time, they have the potential to lower costs and improve medical outcomes. In their MBAN spectrum announcement, the FCC underscored the importance of patient monitoring by citing a study by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. The study found that hospital patients who suffered a heart attack while being electronically monitored had a 48 percent chance of survival, while those who were not monitored had only a 6 percent chance. With numbers like that, improving monitoring technology and making it more ubiquitous is more important than ever.