New possibilities and application areas have been generated through wireless communication technologies within healthcare information technology (HCIT). The Healthcare industry’s M2M adoption (aka telehealth) is the hybrid use of medical devices and communication technology to monitor patient status, symptoms, treatment and outcomes.
According to industry analysts, the global telehealth market is expected to grow by ~10X between 2014 and 2018 as providers increasingly deploy remote communications and monitoring technology to cut costs and enhance the quality of care/outcomes.
Adopting telehealth solutions, applications and devices is no longer optional for leading healthcare providers. It is rapidly becoming a “must have” for all major healthcare/support providers in order to keep their models flexible and aligned with patient expectations.
Within M2M settings, the machines do all the talking. M2M employs a communications device, in most cases a remote monitoring sensor to capture an “event” (i.e., current heart rate, current body temperature or administration of medication), which is relayed through a network (i.e., wireless, wired, or hybrid) to an application (software program), translating the captured event into usable information (patient requires attention/patient is on intended treatment course).
Real Solutions to Real Problems
While hospital occupancy rates continue to slowly decline amongst the U.S.’s ~6,000 hospitals, there is no question that one of the primary issues confronting the industry today is the challenge of keeping people out of the hospital. According to recently published numbers, there was an average of ~112 inpatient hospital admissions per 1,000 active recipients of inpatient care in 2011, down from an average of ~123 in 1991. This data paints the picture of the ongoing shift from inpatient to outpatient care. However, hospitals today, have to be more thoughtful than ever regarding whom they choose to send home. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) penalizes hospitals for readmissions (patients who are discharged and then checked back into the hospital within a certain timeframe). The goal is to release patients as soon as possible and open up new beds, while ensuring patients sent home don’t need to return. The best way to do that is via remote health monitoring, and M2M is the critical driving component.
Driving M2M Adoption
The need to monitor patients remotely is driven, at least in part, by a few factors including an aging population and the consistent growth of chronic illnesses. Additionally, the universal adoption of wireless technology in our personal lives has accelerated the acceptance of remote devices in healthcare. As people unplug their home phones in favor of wireless phones, the path to mobile health monitoring is wider and increasingly more traversable. This technological culture shift in the U.S. allows M2M healthcare applications to enter the mainstream and gain wide acceptance as an alternative to short to medium hospital stays. Forty-eight percent of respondents in a 2012 survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit believed that mobile health applications and services will improve the quality of healthcare they receive.
Looking at the issue from the economic side, in 2014 healthcare providers remotely monitored about 300,000 patients worldwide for Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), diabetes, hypertension, and mental health conditions. By 2017 that number should grow 6X. This growth in remote patient monitoring will save the world’s healthcare systems ~$35 billion by 2018. The benefits of M2M adoption go far beyond just cost savings. Everyone, especially the patient, wins when M2M technology is utilized i.e., improvement in the quality of healthcare services as well as support for the latest innovations for aging in place, self-management of chronic conditions, and general wellness.
A Case Study from the Heart
In 2013, five million Americans were living with heart failure, and there are an estimated 600,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Prior to the commercial mainstream development of wireless connectivity, patients wore the device on their person to capture exceptions in health i.e., such as irregular heartbeats. Doctors could access medical device data after the body-worn external controller unit was physically plugged into and transmitted via a local Internet connection. This limited the patient’s mobility and real-time reporting.
HeartAssist 5, is an M2M-enabled device that allows patients to be flexible and feel secure about their heart health at home or while traveling. It was developed through a collaboration with Numerex, and utilizes a secure, cloud-based, fully hosted, scalable, and integrated platform (NumerexFAST). The device, currently used by more than 100,000 patients, receives and transmits data in real time. It transmits in bursts to a controlled and secure data center and can be viewed by physicians remotely, helping to avoid unnecessary trips to the hospital. The industry can expect to see increased results in patient satisfaction, efficient use of the caregiver’s time and the healthcare system’s resources, and improved clinical efficiency. Most importantly, it enables earlier patient intervention when a heart event occurs.
What Comes Next
Approximately 18M health and wellness Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs) will be shipped worldwide in 2017, generating ~$16 billion in annual revenue. Although disposable body-worn wireless medical sensors have barely begun to see adoption in healthcare applications, we believe they will rise to prominence very quickly hitting five million Medical Body Area Network sensors by 2018.
M2M solutions for medication dispensing are poised to become another growth area in the near future. Today, pillboxes with embedded sensors report to a doctor if the patient is taking their medications on time and correctly. The device knows if a pill has been removed from the box and helps prevent accidental overdose. The device also can be programmed for family members to receive alerts if a loved one has forgotten to take their medicine.
Some other examples of M2M solutions within the healthcare space include:
- A personal emergency response pendant with clinically validated and patented automatic fall detection algorithms
- A digitally enabled cap for standard prescription bottles that allows for continued compliance monitoring and even alerts patients when it is time to take a dose
- A mobile phone “house call” service, which lets patients call a doctor who will actually show up to the house, office, or hotel within two hours
- An additional growth area for telehealth is the Home Health arena. M2M technology can monitor the real time rate of a home healthcare worker, the completion of tasks, and even a patient’s movements if their health requires it.
By 2018, we believe solutions for chronic conditions, such as blood glucose management and cardiac/ECG monitoring, will make up ~60 percent of the revenue for cloud-connected WSNs in the healthcare industry. That will increase exponentially as more wellness remote devices are developed and adopted.
Companies to Watch For
- Numerex: leading machine-to-machine communications innovation and development
- KORE: industry-leading provider of premier machine-to-machine communications
- SIERRA Wireless: multinational wireless communications equipment designer and manufacturer headquartered in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada
- Aeris: cellular network designed and built exclusively for machines. Since its founding, Aeris has been a leader and pioneer, shaping and driving industry innovation and standards in machine to machine (M2M) communications
Going forward, we believe the healthcare industry will transform into a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) setting. Smartphone apps and mobile health devices will become the norm for both patients/caregivers and video may play a key role in healthcare management. Networks will continue to get stronger and faster, allowing for innovations that used to be previously relegated to science fiction. In the end, it’s always going to be about a good combination of patient health and economics. Keeping hospital beds open for those who really need them and an overall improvement in the health of our society within a decade will likely be the effect of M2M adoption. It is truly amazing how a tiny sensor can change everything.