Pathologists and clinical laboratory managers can expect that physicians will want to incorporate digital remote patient monitoring into their clinical practices
Swift advances in technology devoted to fitness-tracking devices used by consumers are creating opportunities for physicians to tap that data to remotely monitor their patients. These pioneering efforts show how even medical laboratory testing functions might eventually be incorporated in these fitness tracking products.
Of course, these devices were created for non-clinical functions. But they do allow doctors to get real-time looks at a patient’s vital signs outside of the traditional office visit. Using these consumer electronic devices for medical purposes is part of the larger trend of marshalling technology to produce better patient outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.
Fitness Trackers Can Aid in Diagnosis and Treatment Decisions
Activity trackers can record and send a person’s data to web-based electronic health records (EHRs), according to a page published on Wikipedia. Essentially upgraded pedometers, they can also graph overall physical activity.
In some cases, they can even graph heart rate and quality of sleep. Some doctors and hospitals are using the data generated to keep tabs on their patients and inform treatments, according a report published by PBS News Hour.
A physician can use a fitness-tracking device to monitor a patient’s heart rate or blood pressure remotely. “It’s the real deal of what’s going on in their world from a medical standpoint,” observed Eric Topol, M.D., a cardiologist and Senior Consultant in the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases at San Diego-based Scripps Clinic, in the PBS report.
Remote Monitoring Technology Could Save Billions in Health Spending
A story published on Medscape, noted that the number of Americans using remote patient monitoring (RPM) for five major chronic diseases will increase six-fold by 2017, according to a report released last year by InMedica, a medical electronics industry research group.
“The U.S. healthcare system could reduce costs by nearly $200 billion during the next 25 years if remote monitoring tools were utilized in congestive heart failure, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and chronic wounds or skin ulcers,” stated a 2009 position paper published by the Center for Technology and Aging. The use of RPM results in a reduction in the number of emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and duration of hospital stays, the authors wrote.
Market Trends Support Expanded use of Remote Patient Monitoring
Potent forces are driving the use of RPM devices. Primary among them are the aging population and rise of chronic diseases, according to the Medscape story. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is spurring hospitals and physicians to use technology to reduce hospital readmissions.
Under previous reimbursement models, physicians lacked economic incentive to remotely monitor vital signs, the Medscape writer noted. Now, the ACA has created Medicare financial incentives for providers to keep tabs on patients’ physical parameters beyond the office visit.
“It’s all about moving toward preventive care and reducing avoidable hospital readmissions,” Shane Walker, InMedica’s Associate Director for Digital Health told Medscape.
Tech Device Manufacturers and EHR Developers
Big players such as Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), Adidas (ADSGn.DE), Samsung (OTN: SSNLF), and Garmin (NASDAQ: GRMN) are developing products that measure biological functions, reported PBS. A number of smaller RPM device manufacturers are partnering with insurance and EHR companies.
One example is the partnership of AliveCor, Inc., Diasend and Practice Fusion. AliveCor makes a smartphone heart monitor. Diasend offers an online diabetes data management system. Practice Fusion is the nation’s fourth largest EHR vendor, according to PBS. It offers free, web-based EHRs. The company generates revenue by partnering with diagnostic laboratories, imaging centers and drug companies and through targeted advertising.
Remotely-generated Device Data Could Be Next Patient-care Frontier
Synthesizing and integrating the explosion of remotely generated data into EHRs remains a challenge, suggested the PBS report. “[T]o avoid overwhelming doctors and patients alike and to realize the potential of this surge in information, this data must be organized,” stated Matt Douglass, Co-founder and Vice President of Platform at Practice Fusion.
Scripp’s Topol described Practice Fusion’s new partnership as a “baby step.” “The integration of [remotely-generated patient data] with the classical medical record is vital,” he observed in the PBS piece. “[W]e’ve got a long way for this to become routine.”
But Douglass is optimistic. “Digital doctors equipped with device data in their EHR represent the next frontier of care,” he declared in the PBS report. “[They] have the unique ability to make more informed decisions with their patients by utilizing technology that finally marries data about a patient’s everyday health with data collected in the exam room.”
Can Remote Devices Enable Remote Diagnosis?
For pathologists and clinical laboratory managers, the growing use of fitness trackers and other RPM devices for clinical purposes represents yet another example of how healthcare providers and vendors are utilizing current technology to support clinical care.
Ongoing advances in diagnostics technologies may make it possible to build medical laboratory tests into these RPM devices. Were that to happen, it would give pathologists and clinical laboratory scientists the opportunity to monitor patients wearing these devices and alert physicians—in real time—anytime such patients had critical readings.
—Pamela Scherer McLeod