Technology is shaping modern day telemedicine much the same way it has influenced the next-generation design of other industries. More capabilities can now be packed into smaller devices. Smaller devices democratize medicine, making it more participative for patients. When patients become more engaged, they comply with their therapeutic regimen--whether it be medication, diet, or exercise--better.
Two Consumer Devices Connecting Patients to their Providers
It's been commonly estimated that patients only comply with their prescribed medication instructions about 50 percent of the time. The cure cannot improve the patient's condition effectively if the medicine is not taken. Thus the people who use the healthcare delivery system in this way create more waste. The time spent going to more office visits or hospital visits than they need to, excessive lab visits, increased medication titrations, increased side-effects, all could be streamlined and more efficient if the original therapy was adhered to as directed.
So connected health researchers and corporate innovators have made this one of their motivating drivers: Find a way to improve patient compliance.
Some of the innovations that have been launched in the past decade are:
A pill bottle, called the SIMPill bottle, an electronic medication container which has the patient's medication schedule programmed into it, sends a message to the patient's cell phone when it's time to take the next dose of medicine. The SIMPill bottle registers when the medicine bottle is opened, and how much medicine is taken at a given dosage time. This technology allows the bottle to continue sending reminder messages to the patient's cell phone until the bottle is opened and the medicine is taken. It also alerts the patient when they are about to take too much medicine.
A flashing orb, like the one manufactured by Ambient Devices in Cambridge, MA, is being used in conjunction with the SIMPill bottle by organizations like Partners Healthcare's Center for Connected Health. The orb changes colors to communicate when it's time for another dose of medicine to be taken. The orb glows green when medication is taken, but changes to red when a dosage is overdue.
These two devices together, are expected to be a powerful improvement for patient adherence. If compliance rates can climb from 50 percent to above 90 percent, which many in the connected health industry believe is possible, the impact on healthcare efficiency and efficacy could improve outcomes and simultaneously lower expenditures. These are exactly the twin goals that healthcare reform models, such as Accountable Care Organizations, are trying to achieve.
How Consumer Medical Supplies Are Being Used (So Far!)
Companies like Partners Healthcare's Center for Connected Health have begun their program-development with a focus on chronic conditions that could have the biggest impact on healthcare spending and quality outcome improvement.
- Overall Health & Wellness Programs are designed to provide patients with automated feedback through smartphones, the internet, and other devices on the patient's exercise regimen, non-smoking measures, and weight management, to name a few.
- Cardiac Care programs allow the healthcare team to stay connected to their patients with various forms of heart disease. The patient can transmit blood pressure, pulse, pulse oximetry, etc. back to the doctor's office while still in the comfort of their own home. The healthcare team can send feedback from the office without requiring the patient to report to the clinic for an exam in person. Alternatively, if the readings that the patient sends are considered outside of normal guidelines, the connected health technology allows the care team to intervene at an early stage before an episode becomes acute.
- Dermatology programs are taking advantage of the internet, digital cameras, and computer cameras, enabling patients to experience private, personalized care with a dermatologist from the comfort of home. Teledermatology has improved the quantity of patients that can be examined despite the shortage of dermatologists.
- Diabetes programs could have a major impact on the healthcare system. There are 20 million diabetics in the U.S. alone, and many public health officials consider the disease's growth an alarming concern. Connected health technology hopes to make it easier for patients to record and transmit their blood sugar via a glucometer embedded in their mobile phones. Real-time blood sugar levels could be transmitted via text, or web, to the patient and the healthcare provider over a secure link. This level of communication frequency enables providers to intervene before the patient's condition reaches a dangerous level.
Connected health technology has great potential to improve health outcomes and reduce wasted costs in our healthcare delivery system. Perhaps the most promising benefit is that connected health technology is used "by the patient" rather than "on the patient." Health maintenance and care therefore becomes a partnership between patient and provider, improving compliance to therapy.
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