Remote health monitoring devices provide accessibility to accelerated healthcare, Manimaran Rajakannu, General Manager of Medical Devices at Wipro Technologies explores the advancing medical landscape. Imagine the control we could have, if devices passively monitoring our health warned us about an illness or disorder we might be susceptible to? It would mean fewer frantic calls and visits to the doctor, greater personal well-being and lower costs to stay healthy. Remote health monitoring devices empower patients with these controls, facilitating better accessibility to healthcare and promote stable health. Kalorama Information, a market-research firm, estimates that the market for wireless health devices and services in the United States alone will grow from $2.7 billion in 2007 to $9.6 billion in 2012.

The facilitation of good healthcare access requires control over health care resources. However, the present geographical, knowledge and infrastructure and socio-economic barriers make the ‘healthcare accessibility landscape’ a complex maze.

Today, a patient living in a remote rural area might seek medical advice from a specialist far away, often at the loss of time and money. But for timely and accurate delivery of consultation, the specialist requires real-time availability of patient data, which may not be available. Remote health monitoring devices fill this gap. These devices eliminate the need for the patient to visit a distant hospital or GP, introducing the concept of ‘e visits’. It allows remote collection of patient data through a mobile phone or web interface, thus breaking the geographical barriers of health care access. These devices also allow the specialist or medical practioner to communicate feedback to the patient remotely, via SMS alerts or video conferencing, etc.

Telehealth solutions on the market today allow automatic capture of vital data from multiple medical devices such as BP monitors, weighing scales, etc. via wired or wireless connections. Some solutions have live video and audio capability for real-time patient-carer interactions, minimising the need for the patient to travel for medical advice. This results in optimal use of available healthcare resources.

Improving patient healthcare

Many patients avoid a visit to their GP until absolutely essential. Remote healthcare technology helps transform healthcare from irregular patient visits to comprehensive treatment. It allows real-time collection of patient data thus creating a consistent record of the patient’s health.

Remote health monitoring devices also come with highly intuitive interfaces – such as video conferencing; touch screens with colour schemes that can help medical experts accurately guide semi-skilled medical carers and service providers off site.

These intelligent embedded platforms with the facility to hold video conferencing, allow health workers to directly communicate with doctors in different locations. Such solutions help bridge the communication and time gaps between medical services and doctors. They can also enable primary health centres in rural areas to deliver specialist patient care, resulting in a vast improvement of healthcare delivery.

However, enabling remote health-care access presents its own set of challenges. Interoperability among medical devices is a huge challenge. Patients need their data to be portable and available to other medical practioners. But with so many medical devices each with different protocols, makes data integration, a challenge. Medical device communication and integration frameworks that enable compatibility with both standard devices and proprietary devices provide greater interoperability.

Alongside, there is a demand for reuse of collected patient data, requiring intelligent data storage. The emergence of public health record (PHR) systems has resolved this problem to a certain extent, yet, integration of data with PHR remains a bottleneck. PHR integration modules embedded into device frameworks offers seamless data integration into PHR systems.

In the near future, emerging markets such as India are expected to be major markets for medical devices, including remote health devices. According to the report: “Global ER & D- Accelerating Innovation with Indian Engineering” by Nasscom and Booz & Company, the global offshore R&D revenues from the medical devices sector was valued at USD 2-2.5 billion in 2009, with India’s share at 12 percent (USD 200-300 million). By 2020, the global market is expected to touch USD 5-7 billion with India capturing a fourth of the market (USD 1-2 billion).

The under developed infrastructure of these emerging markets makes them ideal areas for remote healthcare. India, for instance, has one of the lowest Doctor to Patient and Patient to hospital beds ratio. But the country also has one of the world’s highest mobile densities, providing great scope for the growth of remote healthcare, as a mobile value added service.

Today, remote healthcare devices are finding wide acceptance among healthcare providers, and patients.

With the convergence of technologies, remote healthcare devices will enter almost all medical and health related markets. Who knows there might come a time when remote health devices may converge with our TV sets!