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From College Kids on Caffeine to Smartphones and Wi-Fi, Telemedicine evolves
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To earn money as a struggling college student in the 1980’s, I took a night-shift job at the local hospital as a ‘monitor tech’ in the Intensive Care Unit.

Armed only with massive amounts of caffeine and very rudimentary training in what bad ECG cardiac rhythms look like, I spent my nights watching a row of heartbeat monitors for 24 hospital patients. I was given three standing orders:

  1. Don’t fall asleep.
  2. If anything changes in a patient’s heart rhythm try to print off a paper strip of it for the physicians to take a look at in the morning.
  3. If any of the rhythms changed to either very smooth waves or a completely flat line scream for a nurse.

That second responsibility proved to be the most challenging, because the monitors didn’t have the ability to pause or rewind. Catching the anomalies that the physicians wanted to see required gunfighter reflexes to physically get to the right monitor and hold down the print button hoping that the troubling rhythm was still on the screen so that it would show up on the paper slip.

Being jacked up on caffeine did help with the reaction time, though I was a jittery mess in class the next morning. Good times.

Do you know what physicians do now when they want to see their patients’ cardiac rhythms?  Many of them pull out their smart phones. Modern cardiac monitors are intelligent, autonomous, and wi-fi enabled. They can assess and interpret patient rythyms far better than I ever could, and they never fall asleep.

Modern Monitoring

Companies now market devices that push cardiac and other patient care data directly to physician’s mobile iOS devices. Whenever a doctor wants to check in on her monitored patients, the information is at her fingertips, wherever she happens to be.

And, wherever the patient happens to be. This is the part that seems like science fiction compared to my days as a monitor tech. I could only monitor patients that were in the ICU because that’s where the monitors were and the cables were only so long. Even when we later went to telemetry broadcasting devices we still had to keep monitored patients close to the ICU because the signals were not strong enough to penetrate thick floors or walls.

Today’s healthcare practitioners routinely monitor telemetry from patients who aren’t in the hospital at all. Medical device manufacturers have developed innovative tools that enable the remote monitoring of changes across a wide range of patient vital statistics. These devices are at the forefront of what is referred to as telemedicine or telehealth – the use of networked technology to enable patients to receive care from offsite health professionals.

The Evolution of Telemedicine

Telemedicine is a fast evolving and fast growing healthcare discipline. Industry analysts InMedica and IMS Health project the global market for telemedicine to reach $1 billion by 2016, accelerating to a potential $6 billion by 2020.

This growth aligns to a broader migration of care delivery from hospitals to less expensive non-institutional sites, including patient’s homes. This migration is evidenced by growth in annual Medicare expenditures on home and hospice care. In 2010 this expenditure was $30.8 billion. By 2015 it will be $46.4 billion.

Medical device innovation supporting home based care is increasingly focused on enabling patients to self-manage their chronic conditions, overseen by offsite health professionals. In addition to improving patient quality of life by allowing them to remain at home, this innovation also contributes to the reduction of healthcare expenditures to benefit society as a whole.

The Logistics of Telemedicine

Telemedicine is a transformative technology, and it brings with it new logistics challenges and opportunities. The supply chains underpinning an ECG monitor confined to a hospital ICU and many thousands of tiny remotes dispersed to homes across the country are very different.  They require different approaches to support deployment, servicing, updating, and device recovery.

Logistics solutions that effectively support innovative telemedicine devices include services that:

  • Manage device inventory and fulfill individual orders against physician prescriptions
  • Enable the patient to take control of the delivery of their incoming medical shipments
  • Facilitate swap out of devices in the patient’s home, and replacement or return of components

Are telemedicine/telehealth devices part of your healthcare strategy? I’d love to talk with you about your perspective on this dynamic area of medicine, and ways in which medical device innovations can be effectively supported by recent logistics innovations. I promise I’ll lay off the caffeine when we talk! Leave me a comment below.

Category: Healthcare, Medicine
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