People don’t like to stay in hospitals any longer than they have to, but doctors want to be aware of any changes in their condition after a serious illness or procedure. Physical therapy is often important to a full recovery, but frequent visits to a rehabilitation facility can be inconvenient and expensive. As high deductibles become more common, people want to keep their costs down.
Internet-connected devices can be a great aid in monitoring a patient’s condition and assisting in recovery. By recording progress from day to day, they can help a healthcare provider to determine whether the progress is satisfactory or an office visit is necessary. The Internet of Things is taking on an increasing role in patient recovery.
Remote assistance with rehabilitation takes many forms. Some manufacturers produce wearable devices that connect to mobile phones with Bluetooth. An application on the phone collects information on the patient’s progress and sends it in real time to the care provider’s office. The patient can use the app to provide supplementary information. Others use stationary devices, such as the Kinect, to guide exercises and collect information on them.
Using a remotely connected device can motivate compliance with an exercise program. After a procedure such as joint replacement, most people would just like to rest. Compliance rates with assigned exercise programs are generally low. An application or device gives patients immediate feedback, as well as a feeling that the provider knows whether they’ve done the day’s exercises.
At the outer edge of technology, there are even complete suits available, which let the wearer “achieve mobility, strength, and/or endurance not otherwise possible.” This may sound like Iron Man’s outfit, but it’s a real product for people regaining their ability to walk.
Remove monitoring devices can track a recovering patient’s condition at all times and report any signs of difficulty. Wearable devices can detect adverse events and bad drug reactions. The information may allow prediction of a downturn before the patient notices a problem. Direct gathering of information from the device avoids transcription errors and delays.
According to a study, remote patient monitoring sharply reduced the rate of unplanned returns by congestive heart failure patients. Three-quarters of the patients found that remote monitoring was as effective as regular visits by a nurse.
Managing the data
The device which the patient uses is just the most visible part of the information chain. The provider has to collect and analyze the data, and here the obstacles can be bigger than just exercising while wearing an electronic armband. Clinicians are often reluctant to adopt the technology, because of the difficulty integrating the data with existing health records. The infrastructure may just not be available yet.
Remote monitoring means less time occupied by office visits, but it also means that the information collected has to enter an information system automatically. The systems which providers are already using may not have that capability. New software tools will be necessary.
Software which alerts providers when it detects a possibly dangerous change in the patient’s state is an important part of the complete system. This kind of software is likely to attract closer regulatory scrutiny than monitoring devices, since it serves a diagnostic purpose rather than just collecting data.
Security and privacy are important issues under strict HIPAA regulation. The Internet of Things has an often-deserved reputation for terrible security. Healthcare providers need to evaluate any devices they authorize for security. Their data collection and management procedures need to be equally secure.
Medical devices on the Internet of Things promise better management of recovering patients’ conditions with less inconvenience and cost than current methods offer. There is still a lot of work to do before their use becomes routine, but the rate of progress is encouraging.