Remote Possibilities

31 August 2005 (Last Updated August 31st, 2005 18:30)

Easy mobile access to healthcare services could provide independence for millions of remote users worldwide. Timo Nyberg looks at the technologies available for making this goal a reality.

People living with chronic medical conditions need regular and individualised care. Their dependency on medical systems can be so strong that it reduces their ability to maintain their normal lifestyles. The life of those under chronic care is often
centred on check-ups and hospital visits, which can create insecurity when they are remote from access to medical systems. An important area of the mobile healthcare service is the mobile monitoring of the patient’s vital signs outside the clinical
environment.

For people with diseases such as cardiac arrhythmia, COPD or asthma, and for others in need of frequent medical monitoring, it is easier to enjoy everyday activities when they have mobile healthcare available. Mobile healthcare can monitor common
vital signs such as blood pressure, electro cardiogram (ECG), pulse rate, blood oxygenation (SpO2), breathing rate, body temperature, body activity and weight, and other measures. Questionnaires and several blood tests can also be integrated to remote
monitoring systems such as the monitoring of pain or blood glucose.

The capturing of real-time data has been proven to significantly improve the observed effects of treatment. Frequent monitoring reassures patients that their condition is being regularly followed, providing them with security and peace-of-mind. The
patients can feel less limited in their daily lives.

There are numerous studies on the economic benefits of telemedicine in order to demonstrate its positive benefits. In the case of mobile healthcare the real benefits are often significant and become evident in clinical trials. Based on the existing
studies it is clear that mobile healthcare can bring significant economic savings and at the same time improve the quality of care.

MOBILE HEALTHCARE APPLICATION AREAS

The benefits of mobile healthcare are to decrease hospital-based resource utilisation, improve patient compliance with treatment plans, improve the level of patient satisfaction with healthcare services, and improve patients’ perceived quality
of life.

Current applications of mobile healthcare include monitoring chronically ill patients, patients discharged from hospital, home-care, and also providing instant notification and assistance during emergencies. The most common applications of mobile
healthcare are for heart disease, diabetes, obesity and asthma. Applications for new areas such as mental health are under development.

"An important area of the mobile healthcare service is the mobile monitoring of the patient’s vital signs outside the clinical environment."

In many cases, continuous monitoring has allowed patients to return to productive work that has reduced the burden on the healthcare system. Mobile healthcare systems are very easy and fast to install, operate and carry. The systems can be made
functionally ready at the service provider’s location and then easily taken by the user to home, office or anywhere he/she goes.

For long-term use, only charging is required and the system is ready to be used. There is no need to connect the system to internet, telephone modem or any other system; it is always connected. Remote downloads are possible and thus the systems may be
updated without returning the device to the provider’s location. Today, mobile phone connectivity is available practically everywhere and the systems can operate in remote locations allowing the patients the luxury of holiday travel.

ECONOMIC CONSIDERATIONS

Mobile healthcare solutions reduce costs by reducing visits to hospitals and primary care physicians. Another significant cost saving is the ability to discharge hospital patients earlier. Remote monitoring can reduce false diagnoses by providing
real-time and longitudinal evaluation of patient data. Cost savings are also made possible by allowing doctors to monitor the effect of a drug on a specific patient and consequently lower treatment costs by more rapidly arriving at the appropriate
therapeutic drug and dose for that individual. Mobile applications can also help in reducing the likelihood of costly errors by using the technology as a support tool for cross-checking and providing immediate access to medical records.

The feeling of security engendered by mobile healthcare reduces the likelihood of patients seeking unnecessary medical attention. In addition, there is the possibility of an improved quality of life for those who take care of patients with chronic
disease.

The number of available mobile health technologies makes it difficult to decide when and how to start exploiting modern mobile healthcare. However, the question should no longer be how much we can save in healthcare costs by using mobile
healthcare technology, but how we can both save costs and improve the quality of care by using mobile technology.

MAKING THE MOST OF TECHNOLOGY

Mobile healthcare meets the needs of patients who require continuous care and who are not or do not want to be bound to one location. It can also be a method to make all people more aware of the influences that lifestyle has on their health.

Functional technologies exist which can offer mobile healthcare solutions, and their numbers are rapidly increasing. The challenge of mobile healthcare systems is no longer in the technology. The challenge is in developing useful systems and in
training healthcare professionals and patients to use the systems correctly and effectively.