Wireless Medical Devices – A New Era in Patient Care

★★★ You’re invited to listen to a special Chicago Tribune XMRadio interview on “WIRELESS CONNECTIVITY IN HEALTHCARE” on ReachMD (XM160), a channel dedicated for medical professionals.


The wireless revolution has had a tremendous impact on society and people worldwide. The technologies and networks that connect us to people, data, and devices wirelessly are rapidly transforming our everyday lifestyle and productivity in ways never imagined before. This technological trend is quietly and swiftly permeating the medical sector as well, where embedded wireless technologies and M2M (machine-to-machine) communications are bringing about dramatic improvements in the quality of healthcare by allowing patients unprecedented mobility while providing healthcare professionals with easy and real-time access to patient data.

In 2006 the cost for healthcare in the United States rose to $2.1 trillion or 16 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The US Department of Health and Human Services reports that at least 60% (over 100M) of American adults have at least 1 chronic condition (disease that is long-lasting or recurrent); 77% over 65 have 2 or more chronic conditions; and 90% of all health care spending is towards treating chronic conditions.

The key drivers for wireless medical applications are:

  • Aging Demographic
  • Chronic care is the predominant health care issue
    – Over 77% above 65 have 2 or more chronic conditions
  • Government initiatives to control escalating health costs
    – Over two-thirds of all health care spending is towards treating chronic conditions.
  • Migration of health care model –Institution to proactive home care
  • Disruptive forces come together – The Internet and Wireless
  • New Revenue Opportunities for Operators, Health Care Device Manufacturers, and Health Care Service Providers

Awareness of telehealth and wireless medical applications is increasing with more high profile companies (GE, Google, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Philips, Qualcomm, Siemens, TI, Wal-Mart, etc,) entering the space, along with prominent media coverage and a rise in the number of conferences highlighting the technology.

Some notable recent developments in the end-to-end health monitoring space are:

Wireless Health Device & Remote Patient Monitoring Systems

  • Philips  announced initiatives to offer wireless handheld medical care services including in-home wireless monitoring devices
  • Bosch offers a Telehealth Platform to Support Remote Health Monitoring and  Management Programs
  • Medtronic CareLink® Network with Conexus™ Wireless Telemetry for cardiac disease management
  • GE’s Quiet Care™ remote monitoring system for seniors
  • Intel and GE announced a health care alliance and plans to invest $250M in Medical Devices for telehealth and home health monitoring
  • St. Jude Medical introduced HouseCallPlus™, its remote Patient Monitoring System
  • Biotronik introduced a remote patient monitoring service and the Cardiomessenger

E-Health Records Initiatives

  • Microsoft announced “HealthVault”
  • Google announced its own Google Personal Health Records initiative
  • Walmart and Intel announced a joint eHealth records initiative

Wireless Health Forums and Standards Bodies

  • Continua Health Alliance  is a non-profit, open industry coalition of healthcare and technology companies dedicated to establishing standards and certification processes to ensure interoperability and co-esistence among personal health solutions (in conjunction with HL7, an ANSI standard for healthcare specific data exchange between computer applications).
  • The IEEE has also begun work on 10 telehealth device standards (part of the ISO/IEEE 11073 family) for controlling information exchange among medical devices and cell phones, personal computers, personal health appliances and other compute engines.
  • Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance  is an organization founded to create and promote an ongoing and expanding dialogue around the many opportunities to use embedded wireless technologies to advance the delivery of healthcare.
  • Increasing number of industry conferences related to wireless health technology.

Tangible perception of benefits

A recent national study of home health care agencies by Philips showed compelling and tangible benefits with telehealth:

  • 89% of agencies report that telehealth led to an increase in quality outcomes
  • 76.6% cited reduction in unplanned hospitalizations
  • 77.2% cited reduction in ER visits
  • 76% reported telehealth services led to patients improving self care by proactive disease management

The opportunity is here – Are you ready? By 2020 at least 160 million Americans are projected to have at least one chronic condition. An independent market study predicts  that the market for telehealth and home health monitoring for US and EU combined will grow from $3 billion in 2009 to an estimated $7.7 billion by 2012. Another study pegs the US market to grow from about $800M (2009) to $2.5B (2012) .

Private and public payers are beginning to buy into the advantages of telehealth. Medicare now reimburses for telehealth under particular circumstances and some private payers in certain geographies are also paying providers to use telehealth.

There are however significant challenges in the road ahead, some of which are:

  • Feasible business model, that is aligned with the interests  of all key players including the consumer, the health care providers, and the insurance companies.
  • Risk Management: Innovation risk has many unknowns. The goal is to mitigate and manage the risk.
  • Compelling Use-cases: The application of wireless must offer a compelling benefit. Further, the market is not one-size-fits-all. Telehealth solutions need to be better tailored to their end users
  • Optimized Design – The design must be optimized for performance, cost and power
  • Coexistence and Interoperability – Coexistence between different networked medical device systems, or the approach of enabling plug-and-play interoperability and connectivity, is quintessential for the success of future telehealth systems.
  • FDA Device Regulation & Certification: This is often a long and arduous process requiring significant investment in time and effort. Not all embedded wireless medical devices may need FDA certification. But those that address critical disease management areas such as congestive heart failure will certainly do.
  • Best Practices: A big challenge is the transition of medical device systems deployed on pilot vendor controlled networks to their deployment on hospital controlled enterprise networks. Often assumed to be straight-forward and simple, it is riddled with inefficiencies and hidden costs for vendors and providers alike. The development and proliferation of best practices is essential for successful deployment of a wireless medical device strategy.

Wireless is surely and swiftly bringing about a new revolution in health care. Are you ready for this paradigm shift?

★★★ There’s valuable info and insight on how you can penetrate the wireless medical device market at http://www.emblazeworld.com/ (Check out the special Chicago Tribune XMRadio interview)

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One Response to Wireless Medical Devices – A New Era in Patient Care

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