Not too many years from now it will seem quaint that patients with chronic diseases made a trip to their doctors to have their condition checked. Those one-time, random, often inconclusive readings by medical professionals soon will be replaced with continuous wireless monitoring of a patient’s condition.
In fact, it is slowly starting to happen around the world now. But it will pick up the pace quickly for two important reasons. First, the medical data gleaned from continuous monitoring sensors attached to or inserted in a patient’s body delivers far more useful information than a single visit to the doctor. Medical practitioners, then, can identify anomalies sooner and prescribe more efficacious treatments in a timelier manner.
The second reason is cost. By dramatically reducing the need for patients to visit their doctors or, worse, the emergency room insurance providers will pay out less in coverage costs.
Take heart patients. In a report published in 2011 in the British medical journal The Lancet, a 15-month study of patients with class III heart failure were randomly assigned to either wear a wireless implantable hemondynamic monitoring (W-IHM) system or were put into a control group without the W-IHM. The result was that those with the system had 39% fewer hospitalizations than those in the control group. Because clinicians were able to more closely observe a patient’s heart condition, they could prescribe treatment sooner and more accurately, thus reducing a person’s need to run to the hospital.
Wireless medical device makers are also teaming up with global telecommunications carriers to conduct trials. For example, Information Week reported last month that AT&T is working with one such device maker to assure that global trials for patients with respiratory problems can be monitored continuously and securely whether they lived in the United States or the Ukraine. Continuous wireless monitoring of patients with renal problems and those suffering diabetes is also emerging as a way to improve treatments.
And, as I noted, it also saves money.
How much money? Staggering amounts. One study shows that congestive heart failure alone cost in 2008 cost $34.8 billion in the United States alone “with the greatest share being hospitalizations.” And the American Heart Association claims that in the same year direct and indirect expenses from overall cardiovascular disease there reached an astonishing $475.3 billion.
Given these kinds of costs it’s inevitable that the healthcare industry is adopting aggressive expense reduction technologies. Wireless sensors for specific conditions is increasingly being proven as an ideal way to cut costs while also improving treatment. You cannot ask for a better combination.