4 Interesting Tech Trends In Patient Monitoring
Sep 04, 2018
As important as the relationships between patients and healthcare professionals are, a doctor or nurse can’t be in the room with each patient at all times, even in a fully-staffed hospital. As such, a variety of electronic monitoring equipment is generally available to monitor such metrics as the electrical activity of the heart, respiration rate (breathing), blood pressure, body temperature, cardiac output, and the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.
But big improvements are ahead. Here are four emerging trends that are changing the way doctors, nurses, and staff keep track of the physical status of patients, and, in some cases, even interact with them.
1) Wireless sensor technology: The iconic image of a hospital patient is a frail figure lost in a tangle of wires and cables connected to large, noisy machines. Those wires and cables are beginning to be replaced by wireless technologies similar to those that have cleaned up the thicket of cables in our office workstations. But for the more personal needs of healthcare, that technology is becoming “wearable.” ABI Research estimates that five million disposable, wearable, medical sensors will ship by 2018. In addition to increasing the comfort of patients and enabling staff to more easily assist and move them, wireless will improve the devices in their main function – alerting staff to changes in vital signs. In 2012, the Federal Communications Commission announced allocation of a section of the broadcast spectrum for Medical Body Area Networks (MBANs) in hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices. MBANs transmit a stream of continuous, real-time data about a patient’s condition. With MBANs, the flow of data can be monitored by medical personnel, recorded for inclusion in electronic health records, or even shared with concerned family members.
2) Remote patient monitoring: But what about outpatient care? With our aging population, the need for monitoring patients wherever they live and work is increasing, as is the need to reduce expensive hospital stays. One solution is “telehealth,” or remote transmission of a patient’s medical data. Home medical devices that assist with the treatment of chronic illness are already commonplace, but now they are being integrated with distant healthcare facilities to track patient health and set off alarms when dangerous situations arise. According to a research report by Berg Insight, by the end of 2013, more than three million people worldwide were being monitored remotely by professional caregivers. By 2018, they predict that number will rise to 19 million.
3) Use of Big Data: Combine the ability to track information on patient health with the explosion in the number-crunching capacity of advanced computer networks, and you have access to a treasure trove of knowledge for medical research and treatment. For example, big data can help to identify patients who are susceptible to specific conditions, and prescribe preventive measures to head them off. The Guardian reports that “In the US, big data has been used to predict accurately which patients are likely to be readmitted to the hospital within 30 days, with data analysis also suggesting the remedial actions needed for each patient.” A key element of making the deluge of data useful is displaying it in meaningful ways that relate to the individual, thereby applying vast amounts of anonymous data to construct a customized treatment plan for an individual. On a larger scale, big data will apply everything from weather data to the tracking of infectious diseases to make funding and staffing decisions.
4) Electronic patient portals: Interoperability is the key to a range of ongoing and potential improvements in our healthcare system. Electronic health records (EHRs) are just the beginning. The goal is for doctors, nurses, patients, family members, researchers, and insurers to share useful medical data. The implications for privacy are numerous and worrisome, but so are the consequences of not seizing this opportunity to save lives and improve quality of life. A central hub for sharing information could include content management, member profiles, blogs, discussion boards, jargon glossaries, gamification, connection with social services, and support groups. This holistic approach could create communities of healthcare awareness to provide people with knowledge, support, and the feeling that they are not alone.
These and other developments in healthcare technology will provide more comprehensive, uninterrupted attention to patients. At the same time, they have the potential to lower costs and improve medical outcomes. In their MBAN spectrum announcement, the FCC underscored the importance of patient monitoring by citing a study by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. The study found that hospital patients who suffered a heart attack while being electronically monitored had a 48% chance of survival, while those who were not monitored had only a 6% chance. With numbers like that, improving monitoring technology and making it more ubiquitous is more important that ever.
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