Most of us are already familiar with some type of remote monitoring whereby wireless devices collect data that can be reviewed by a health care provider at another location. These devices are already being used to monitor home-based, ambulatory, and critical care patients. Now, wireless monitoring is moving into acute care as well.
Spurred on by the growth in technology, the use of wireless devices in health care is growing rapidly. About 2.8 million patients worldwide were using home-based remote monitoring at the end of last year, according to a new research report. The number of monitored patients is expected to grow to 4.9 million by 2016.
Remote monitoring has been shown to be helpful in managing patients at home who have chronic diseases such as a cardiac arrhythmia, sleep apnea, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In the U.S. and Europe, more than 200 million people have at least one chronic disease that could be monitored remotely. Remote monitoring has been proven to provide comparable outcomes but with greater patient satisfaction and lower costs.
Remote monitoring is only one component of telemedicine—a term used to describe the ability to diagnose and treat patients remotely using a wide range of technologies to exchange medical information from one site to another. Not to be confused with telemetry, telemedicine covers a rapidly increasing number of health care applications that can employ various forms of telecommunications—including smart phones, wireless devices, two-way videos, and video-conferencing equipment.
Telemedicine: The Bigger Picture
Remote monitoring is just part of a growing trend to use telemedicine in modern health care. Telemedicine actually emerged more than 40 years ago as a means of providing care to patients in remote areas. Technology development has exploded since then—and so has the use of telemedicine. It is becoming an integral part of daily operations within hospitals, home health agencies, private physician offices, and in patients’ homes.
The rapid growth of telemedicine can be attributed to the benefits it offers care providers and patients alike. Some of these include:
• improved access to health care, particularly for patients in rural areas with health care provider shortages; telemedicine also enables physicians and health care facilities to extend their practices beyond their service areas.
• earlier discharges in some cases where remote monitoring allows the patient to continue to be monitored outside of the hospital.
• cost efficiency, one of the most important benefits; telemedicine can reduce the cost of care, improve management of chronic diseases and use of staff resources, shorten length of stay, and reduce admissions and readmissions.
Also on the upside, the quality of telemedicine services is perceived to be as good as traditional health care services. Particularly in mental health and ICU care, telemedicine has proven to be superior, producing better outcomes and higher patient satisfaction scores, findings supported by numerous studies conducted during the past 15 years. Moreover, consumers report a preference for telemedicine because it allows them access to care providers who might not otherwise be available while eliminating travel time and easing stress.
Putting Telemedicine to Work in Acute Care
Already established in ambulatory, home health, and critical care, telemedicine is now making an entrance in the acute care setting. At Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, Calif., patients’ vital signs are being monitored remotely via state-of-the-art wireless technology. These patients wear wrist devices that can detect signs of deterioration as soon as they occur. Another benefit is that nurses can check their patients’ blood pressure and pulse without disturbing them. Patients at Palomar say they like the wireless devices because they allow them the freedom to move around, which wall-mounted devices do not.
Palomar is the first hospital system to use this remote monitoring system but other hospitals in the U.S., Asia, Europe, and Australia are in early stages of implementation.