How is remote monitoring helping doctors and patients? What are some of the latest innovations and trends? I remember reading some analysis from Gartner last fall about remote-monitoring technologies in the health space, and it really stuck with me.

The research firm made some pretty bold statements suggesting technology will revolutionize primary healthcare relatively soon—within the next two decades.

Gartner said virtual personal health assistants could replace human doctor/patient interactions—and, here’s the kicker—they could do a better job in terms of responsiveness and accuracy than their human counterparts.

In fact, the firm predicts by 2025, half of the population will rely on virtual personal health assistants for their primary care. Digging a little deeper here, Laura Craft, research director at Gartner, says the traditional system isn’t working. She says, “There is significant evidence that the majority of primary healthcare visits are of little value to the patient and represent a massive drain on trained physician time.”

All of my economics-minded readers know where I’m going with this … If demand continues to outpace supply, something’s got to give. We need alternative solutions. The IoT (Internet of Things) is most likely the answer here. From virtual personal health assistants to health-monitoring devices that gather realtime data remotely, I agree with Gartner that we really are on the verge of a revolution in healthcare. When remote and virtual monitoring replaces ineffective, inefficient in-person visits, there will be less of a burden on the healthcare system.

More people will be able to access care, and doctors will be freed up to spend quality time with patients who really need face-to-face consults and treatments.

It’s worth looking at some of the latest technologies bringing about this new era in healthcare. Here’s one I really like from Abbott, a provider of medical products and technologies. Last month, Abbott launched the first smartphone-compatible Insertable Cardiac Monitor in the United States. It’s called the confirm Rx ICM (Insertable Cardiac Monitor).

The solution is designed to help physicians remotely identify cardiac arrhythmias, which are abnormal heart rhythms. Cardiac arrhythmias can develop when some force—whether it’s a disease or injury or something else—disrupts the heart’s electrical signals and causes it to beat erratically.

When a person’s heart beats too slowly or too quickly, it can disrupt other systems in the body, which can lead to symptoms like dizziness, shortness of breath, and fainting.

With the confirm Rx ICM device and a specially designed mobile app, Bluetooth connectivity enables continuous heart monitoring. The system uses a patient’s smartphone to record episodes of irregular heartbeats and transmit this data to his or her physician. It also makes it easy for patients to manage their own health, for instance, by keeping precise track of episodes.

Abbott has received FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Admin.) clearance on this remote-monitoring solution, and I believe it’s a perfect example of where healthcare is headed.

Now let’s move on to another monitoring solution that’s in the evaluation and testing phases. This one was designed to help patients with cirrhosis, a late stage of liver scarring caused by many forms of liver diseases and conditions.

To give us some perspective here, a 2012 study revealed there are more than 150,000 hospitalizations and 40,000 deaths per year attributed to cirrhosis. What’s more, cirrhosis-related readmissions cost $4 billion per year. However, a mobile monitoring solution could help prevent readmissions related to cirrhosis.

According to Healio, a health Website that aggregates health news and research, 20-37% of patients with cirrhosis are readmitted each year within 30 days of discharge.

Physicians involved in the pilot say a big chunk of these readmissions are preventable. This is really important considering the sizable costs of readmissions to the healthcare system at large.

For instance, one physician involved in the study said 29% of patients with cirrhosis are readmitted within 30 days at an annual cost of $16.3 million at her institution. However, by remotely monitoring patients’ weight, medication adherence, temperature, blood pressure, pulse oximetry, and other parameters, connected health devices can reduce preventable readmissions.

During the pilot, cirrhosis patients received a 4g tablet and a wireless blood pressure monitor, pulse oximeter, and scale following their discharge from hospital.

They kept and used each device for 90 days. Using the digital platform, patients were able to send biometric parameters, medication administration, and responses to symptom questionnaires to nurses at the hospital.

Based on this data, a physician could intervene with the patient by phone or video conference if necessary. Compared to the control group, the percentage of patients readmitted within 30 days was lower among those who used the digital platform—15.8% versus 21%.

That’s progress. The bottomline here is that remote monitoring devices can enable a proactive model of healthcare, as opposed to a reactive one.

Proactive care can prevent hospitalizations and readmissions and reduce overall healthcare costs. Plus, it’s a step toward a more patient-centric healthcare system, which can go a long way toward engaging people in their own health.

You have to imagine that the group of patients in this last example who were being held accountable each day for their actions were more likely to adhere to their post-discharge medication schedules, which probably led to other wise decisions that helped reduce their risk for readmission.

It’s really exciting if you think about it. With remote monitoring and other IoT-enabled technologies, healthcare is going to change for the better. This really is just the beginning, and it will be interesting to see what comes next. Simply, the future of advanced care is really here.

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