Home is where the heart is. Soon, it will be where the heart monitor is, too.
Researchers at Sathyabama University in Tamil Nadu, India, have developed a Bluetooth-compatible heart monitor that periodically records an electrocardiogram (ECG) and transmits the data to a patient’s cell phone. The modified phone is engineered to detect abnormalities, alert the patient, and then send the ECG and patient information to a nearby medical facility.
This novel device is just one offshoot of the rapidly growing field of remote patient monitoring (RPM). The use of smart devices to send patient data to healthcare professionals at a remote location is ushering in a booming new trend in patient care. In fact, a recent study by Datamonitor, a provider of online database and analysis services, forecasted that the overall telehealth market would exceed $8 billion by 2012.
And it’s no wonder why. Aging baby boomers—many afflicted with chronic illnesses—threaten to overcrowd hospitals. RPM could nip this problem in the bud and reduce healthcare costs.
But this trend isn’t just good for the healthcare system; it helps patients as well. RPM gets patients out of hospitals and back at home, where they would rather be, while still providing the care that they need. Familiar surroundings can improve quality of life and may even promote faster healing than would a hospital setting.
Embracing RPM seems like a win-win situation. Of course, there are some speed bumps along the path to this future of remote care—and device manufacturers are among the ones who will feel the jolt the most. Shifting healthcare from the hospital to the home demands reevaluation of existing devices and a whole new set of rules.
New end-users spell a number of new needs. Nurses and physicians may no longer be the sole caregivers. Instead, home healthcare may require that the patient or a family member administer treatment. In light of this changing of the healthcare guard, it is imperative that devices feature an intuitive design to avoid mistakes that could put a patient in danger.
Device ergonomics are essential, says Eliot Lazar, president, eICON Medical Consulting. He points out that many people using smart devices are elderly and may have a chronic condition, such as arthritis, which makes certain actions difficult. Moreover, many baby boomers may lack the technical know-how to use smart devices that rely on computers or cell phones.
“These are limitations that are facing patients right now, and we need to help with that interface,” Lazar says. “Frequently, ergonomic engineers are working with the companies as a standard model of development and they don’t necessarily work with the patients that much. That’s a new paradigm that needs to be addressed.”
Many home care patients are also on the move. OEMs need to remember that home healthcare means that patients may be mobile. They will want smaller, unobtrusive, portable devices. And, when patients are mobile, there is a good chance that a device will be dropped, if cell phones and MP3 players have taught us anything, notes Lazar. Durability and robust packaging are thus key points for OEMs to consider as well.
Smart devices for remote patient care show immense promise. But it’s important to remember that although these devices are smart, they will be used by the common man.
Shana Leonard, Managing Editor