Remote patient monitoring is having its day, and it doesn’t seem this evolving trend will slow anytime soon. The technology could fundamentally improve patient outcomes and quality of care across the medical field as it can benefit all patient population locations—onsite (e.g., in hospitals and clinics), within the home, and remote regions (e.g., less populated areas and in developing countries).
The Big Picture
A Global Industry Analysts strategy report predicted that by 2018, more than five million wearable, mobile medical sensors would be purchased and used throughout the healthcare space. It further forecasted that by 2020, global remote monitoring systems will reach a staggering $46 billion in value, driven in part by the need to reduce healthcare spending.
As technology continues to dramatically evolve, many believe the Internet of Things (IoT) could play a pivotal role in most industries, but especially in creating a more connected healthcare ecosystem. In healthcare, IoT may just redefine how apps, devices, and people interact and connect with one another to deliver healthcare solutions. The benefits? It could help reduce costs, improve outcomes and disease management, and enhance patient experiences.
Following are five trends taking place in the patient monitoring field and the key market drivers design engineers need to consider. Clearly, there is overlap among them since IoT spans two important areas: the development of smart, connected products and devices, and the proliferation of big data.
Trend #1: An Aging Population Vulnerable to Chronic Disease Is Driving the Market
The world population is aging. People are living longer and enjoying good health, but many are also living longer with chronic disease, which puts a strain on healthcare systems and resources. The World Health Organization states the number of people aged 65 or older is projected to grow from an estimated 524 million in 2010 to nearly 1.5 billion in 2050, with most of the increase in developing countries.
According to one study, “The disease burden associated with a growing elderly population will require a large and diverse healthcare workforce that can effectively and efficiently diagnose and treat patients with complex medical conditions.”
Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA) explains, “Remote home monitoring continues to boost patient engagement with their overall health and adherence to provider recommendations for managing their chronic medical conditions.”
Trend #2: The Focus in the Healthcare Industry Is Shifting to Value-Based, Patient-Centric Care and Outcomes
Are healthcare companies and providers moving to value-based care? Industry analysts say yes. The increased focus on value-based care is shifting financial incentives to a healthcare model where providers are compensated based on how their patients fare, rather than by the number of tests, visits, or procedures performed. It’s about the quality of care, not the quantity.
This is where new devices and technology could make a substantial impact, and, in some cases, already are. For example, data sensors could help a healthcare provider detect potential issues in a prosthetic knee joint, helping them summarize the bilateral force distribution and pressure patterns across the lower extremity. In addition to offering huge value to the patient (e.g., alerting them to the first hint of strain), the provider benefits by using 24/7 monitoring that allows for adjusting treatment, and the payer avoids the additional costs of prolonged recovery or remedial treatment.
This is just one example of how advances in sensor technology are helping to enhance the quality of care—in part, by making gathering new data much easier.
Trend #3: Healthcare Big Data Is Having a Huge Impact on the Medical Field
Some industry analysts believe that Big Data is fueling the healthcare industry’s biggest trends—precision medicine, predictive analytics, and machine learning (according to an article in HealthIT Analytics).
Big Data is already having a profound impact on the healthcare field in areas from oncology to neurology, cardiology, genomics, and other specialties with more personalized therapies and diagnostic tools. Patient-specific data is increasingly available through a new generation of devices and applications that collect information through wearables, home monitors, and smartphones.
According to a paper from Stanford Medicine on “Harnessing the power of data in healthcare,” data is permeating every component of the healthcare ecosystem—medical research, daily life, the patient experience, ongoing care, prediction, and prevention. From the report, “A focus on data in the coming years has the potential to make healthcare more preventive, predictive, and personalized, and meaningfully reduce healthcare costs and lead to better patient care.”
Big Data allows medical providers and healthcare professionals to accumulate and analyze a much larger population base and assess huge volumes of new data, opening up new areas for research and treatment opportunities. Again, remote monitoring systems can help collect this information and play a role in boosting analysis of this healthcare-related Big Data.
Trend #4: The Increasing Role of IoT for Remote Monitoring and Healthcare Applications
Most would agree, the internet has changed everything. Now, many believe the Internet of Things (IoT) will change everything yet again. IoT will eventually allow patients and providers to work together for more effective chronic disease management, deeper engagement, and more open communication.
By integrating IoT functionality into medical devices, the technology promises to greatly improve the quality and effectiveness of healthcare, bringing especially high-value care to the elderly, patients with chronic conditions, and those requiring constant supervision. There is a growing interest in IoT-driven healthcare services and wearable medical devices that feature sensors, actuators, and other mobile communications methods to allow patient data to be continuously monitored and transmitted via cloud-based platforms. These devices can alert doctors and nurses of important changes in vital signs.
It is even becoming a big business. Spending on healthcare IoT could top $120 billion in just four years, by some estimates.
Devices today monitor many types of patient behaviors and conditions (e.g., glucose monitors, fetal monitors, electrocardiograms, and blood pressure monitors). Today, while patients still need to often follow-up with a physician, the smarter monitoring devices of tomorrow may change that. For instance, some smart devices today can detect if medicines are being taken regularly, such as smart dispensers. If not, they can initiate a call to a care provider to ensure the patient is properly medicated. The possibilities offered by the healthcare IoT to lower costs and improve patient care are almost limitless.
Trend #5: Wearable Medical Technology Innovations Are Driving Growth, Allowing Healthcare to Reach New Frontiers
The clinical application of wearable medical devices is evolving rapidly as technology companies are partnering with healthcare organizations to help patients and clinicians make better decisions. Consider some of the following applications.
- Remote monitoring of sleep and vital statistics for bedridden patients.
- Gloves with Bluetooth sensors help stroke patients with neurological and musculoskeletal injuries regain mobility in their hands
- Painless and accurate glucose monitoring
- Continuous temperature monitoring devices (such as chest straps) can be used for babies and young children, postoperative patients, cancer patients, and seniors
- Headband and/or ear buds measure discomfort in the user’s electroencephalography (EEG) system for better pain management.
- Personalized, AI-based wearable technologies learn about the user; for example, smart watches that recognize and normalize sleep apnea—a dangerous health condition
- Smart glasses that help the blind by talking them through challenging situations
Though many new devices are being developed, there is still a challenge to ensure the devices can aggregate and share data, as well as communicate reliably and securely.
Be Part of Health Technology Innovations
Key healthcare trends will continue to strengthen remote patient monitoring and reveal new opportunities for growth. That translates into new challenges for companies to design and create solutions based on advanced sensor technology.
Isa Liao is a regional sales manager at TE Conectivity. She has 16 years of work experience in the sensor industry, and more than nine years of experience in the medical technology industry.