Preparing for the Next-Generation of Healthcare Monitoring

Brian Buntz

September 22, 2015

4 Min Read
Preparing for the Next-Generation of Healthcare Monitoring

AirStrip made waves earlier this month when it debuted its Apple Watch-compatible fetal monitoring technology. But in the words of the company's CEO Alan Portela: "This is not about an app. This is the next generation of monitoring."

Brian Buntz

The developed world is facing a potential healthcare time bomb. While most of the world is already struggling with a shortage of caregivers, the numbers of patients with chronic diseases is quickly rising, while the pressure to keep healthcare costs down is growing ever greater. In the United States alone, there could be a physician shortage on the order of 46,000 and 90,000, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 1.3 million new paid caregivers, including home healthcare workers and nurse aids, will be required within the next decade.

But the next generation of patient monitoring technology could profoundly help address these challenges, if one follows the vision of AirStrip's CEO Alan Portela.

The company recently received a flood of attention after the company's founder Cameron Powell, MD showed off the company's Apple Watch app, which can monitor an expectant mother and her fetus remotely. The company says that its technology can be used for remote monitoring of chronic diseases, too, such as heart disease, diabetes, as well as conditions like COPD.

The company has long pointed the promise of what it calls "virtualizing" physicians, giving them access to vital sign waveforms and obstetrics data on smartphones. In 2009, it became one of the first companies to have an FDA-certified app in the Apple App Store. In this period, the company worked to mobilize medical device data typically gathered in a hospital, and give doctors access remotely on their smartphone or tablet.

But now the company is touting patient-facing monitoring technologies as well, enabling, say, a woman with a high-risk pregnancy to send near-real time data to her doctor. "Imagine the case of an expectant mother who is having her first pregnancy. All of the sudden she feels her baby is not moving and would like to get checked," Portela says. "She could call her doctor, nurse practitioner, or case manager, and connect to her fetal monitor. She can then do a nonstress test and immediately send data to the cloud, enabling a doctor to see it in near real time." From there, a doctor could either tell the patient that everything is OK or that she should come in for an in-person check up. "In the past, getting this kind of information could take hours or even a full day," Portela says.

That same kind of functionality will come to other treatment as well, Portela hints, pointing out that heart disease and diabetes monitoring would be natural candidates for such a patient self-monitoring approach.

Ultimately, Portela says that he envisions a robust system were tremendous amounts of healthcare data is securely sent to the cloud, where it would be scoured by clinical algorithms to help identify the highest-risk patients. "You could identify a handful of patients out of thousands that you should be concerned about. You could detect potential adverse events and use mobile technology to communicate with them and set up visits with them," Portela says.

Talking to Portela, one gets the impression that the technology to offer this kind of functionality isn't all that far off. The real challenge, however, will be setting up the infrastructure for it and making sure that the requisite standards to allow it will be in place. Already though, there are glimmers of hope from the likes of bodies such as the Center for Medical Interoperability, which are already working on that front.

Brian Buntz is the editor-in-chief of Qmed. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz.

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