- 85.5 million Americans in rural regions need better access to health care.
- Remote monitoring and telemedicine could provide solutions to those in rural areas.
- Health tracking devices can help, but the technology is not perfect yet.
As artificial intelligence and robotics claim a stronger role in global health care services solutions, Americans who live miles from the dwindling number of hospitals can turn to remote tracking health care technologies that could save their lives one day.
According to 2018 industry data, over 85.5 million Americans in rural regions require better access to health care — but aren’t always getting it. To cover these rural areas, you’d need 4,022 doctors to handle the caseload.
Drill down deeper into specific health issues and the rural access issue grows worse.
According to data from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) on heart disease, patients who reside in rural areas/patients who faced a 30-minute-or-more travel time to a medical facility had a mortality rate that was 8% higher than those who traveled less than 30 minutes for heart disease treatment.
Fortunately, the medical community is on the case.
“All patients deserve access to the best medical solutions, regardless of their location,” says Stuart Long, CEO of InfoBionic, a remote cardiac monitoring company. “It’s vital for healthcare providers to incorporate remote monitoring and telemedicine procedures into their longitudinal patient care plans.”
According to InfoBionic, so-called “consumer health wearables” may be a game changer for rural residents, enabling them to still get access to quality care if their nearby hospital closes its doors or if there is no medical facility in the area. “Telemedicine and remote monitoring are the best solutions for these scarcely populated areas,” Long says.
InfoBionic’s remote monitoring product, called MoMe Kardia, provides diagnostic remote cardiac monitoring that streams patient cardiac data to doctors in near-real time, according to a company statement. To rural patients, having a tracking tool on hand to provide accurate and real-time health monitoring isn’t a luxury — it’s a necessity.
“The MoMe is one piece of the complex puzzle required to solve the rural healthcare challenge,” says Long. “Consumer wearables and apps are the first step, but there is a need for healthcare industry leaders to develop and implement programs to support remote networks to support patients and work with manufacturers to ensure the remote monitoring technology requirements can meet the healthcare demands of rural patient populations.”
Other remote health tracking devices, like wound therapy devices, are also good candidates for rural patients who can’t easily get face-to-face access to quality medical care.
“Distance from providers can cause patients to feel helpless when something goes wrong,” says Ronald Silverman, M.D., F.A.C.S., Chief Medical Officer at Kinetic Concepts, Inc., in San Antonio, Texas. The company KCI has developed a remote therapy device called iOn PROGRESS, which provides continuous at-home monitoring for patients prescribed negative pressure wound therapy (NPWT) in the home.
“The technology securely transmits data to KCI, which has a team of virtual therapy specialists on hand to track patient data and be in contact with patients and their families. Sometimes peace of mind can help patients stay on track with their treatment plan,” Silverman says.
Silverman also notes that perhaps the biggest benefit of remote health tracking tools is with episodic conditions, where the patient needs support for a finite period of time.
“Take advanced wound care, for example, where a patient is receiving therapy at home only for a matter of days and/or weeks,” he says. “Lifestyle diseases can also benefit but are challenged with patient fatigue. Innovators in the space must continue to re-invent the engagement approach to maintain patient adherence.”
More monitoring tools available
Other health care experts note there’s a growing arsenal of wearable and tracking tools to monitor rural patients.
“Remote seniors are at particular risk of falls, and medication errors,” says Richard Ueberfluss, founder of Assisting Hands Home Care in Frankfort, Illinois. “Hospice, nursing care, senior care and even hospital at home are becoming increasingly common because of costs, patient preference, payor preference and access.”
Ueberfluss says that telemedicine, remote monitoring, and fall devices are becoming more commonplace, especially with tech-savvy Baby Boomers. “That’s a positive, as pharmacies, critical access hospitals and rural health clinics are getting squeezed by payors, limiting access in our rural communities.”
According to Ueberfluss, emerging and effective remote health monitoring technology services include:
• Electronic monitoring of caregivers to ensure on-time arrival and departure
• In-home wireless video so family caregivers can monitor care with a computer
• Video phones provide peace of mind and face-to-face communication with family members
“Cost-wise, telemonitoring can be $60-per-month,” he says. “Fall alerts are $40-per-month and can be as effective as the user allows.”
Accuracy an issue
While the potential for remote health tracking devices is substantial, experts say the technology is far from perfect.
“Remote health monitors are being made to do all kinds of things,” says James Cobb, an emergency room and trauma nurse since 2003, and currently a sleep specialist at The Dream Recovery System, a self-help service for better sleep experiences. “Researchers are using sensors and designing algorithms to allow the monitoring a variety of conditions.”
How useful remote health monitors are is a matter for debate, says Cobb.
“Just as with wearable athletic devices like the Fitbit watch, there can be a lot of discrepancy with the data outputs,” he says. “These kinds of advances take some time to become common. Reliability has to be tested and proven before government and private insurance will pay for them.”
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