About seven in 10 Americans track some health indicator, like their weight, diet or symptom from their homes (even if they take a low-tech, paper and pen approach). But now hospitals are adopting more high-tech ways to help doctors follow along remotely.
Last month, for example, Boston’s non-profit Partners HealthCare launched a new system that enables patients to share information from their home medical devices with their doctors’ electronic records. The program, which some have described as a first in its field, allows patients to use blood glucose meters, blood pressure cuffs, bathroom scales and other devices to collect their own data and then transmit it securely through a computer or mobile device to the hospital’s database.
Although the system is just over one month old, it looks as though early signs are positive. According to a Monday story in the Boston Globe, the program, which is most worthwhile for patients with chronic diseases, is helping to cut down on doctors’ visits and is enabling doctors to collect more accurate blood pressure readings (as patients’ blood pressure often spikes in the doctor’s office). It also points out that previous studies on similar programs have shown that engaging patients in data collection leads to positive behavior changes.
While the Boston program is one of the most integrated of its kind, it’s part of a growing field of systems and technologies intended to wirelessly monitor patients from the home and share data with healthcare providers. (And, it dovetails with the growing quantified self movement that encourages consumers to track their health and activities with gadgets like the Nike Fuelband and Jawbone Up.) Glooko, an iPhone-connected blood glucose meter, and Asthmapolis, a sensor-enhanced inhaler, enable patients to continuously collect health data and automatically share it with their doctors. And, companies like HealthyCircles (now owned by Qualcomm Life) and MDRevolution offer software platforms that let patients, healthcare providers and other caregivers to securely share health data.
According to a report from Berg Insights earlier this year, 2.8 million patients worldwide used home-based remote monitoring services in 2012 and the research firm expects home patient monitoring systems to grow about 27 percent between 2011 and 2017.
Some studies have argued that the infrastructure might not yet be in place to support the most vulnerable populations – and it’s definitely fair to say that telemedicine is not right for every patient. But as hospitals face new penalties over readmitted patients and are incentivized on a fee-for-value, not fee-for-service, basis, remote monitoring systems will become increasingly appealing. A 2012 study from the Brookings Institute found that remote monitoring technology could save nearly $200 billion in the U.S. over the next 25 years by managing chronic diseases.