Many consumers will be familiar with wearable devices like the Fitbit which, among other features, can track distance travelled and calories consumed while exercising, as well as your pulse and your sleep patterns. These medical devices, helping people to track and manage their fitness, are only the thin edge of the wedge, however. In fact, similar technologies – collecting medical data and uploading it online to be tracked remotely by healthcare practitioners – are transforming the medical world, both improving individuals’ health and potentially saving lives.
Medical Devices for Monitoring Patients
Such monitoring medical devices allow patients to be tracked in real-time without needing to either visit or remain in hospital, making health-monitoring far more accessible and far cheaper than it would be traditionally. What’s more, constant monitoring means that any deterioration in health can be identified quickly and promptly acted upon (and likely far faster than could be achieved with a system of regular checkups). Monitoring can either run continuously or with measurements to be taken at regular intervals; and devices can take all manner of shapes and sizes, just as long as the information is shared online.
Remote monitoring medical devices can track metrics such as blood pressure, glucose and oxygen levels in the blood, assisting with the treatment of conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Motion tracking and GPS data, meanwhile, can be used to monitor patients with dementia, detecting falls and helping to find them if they become lost. In the US, the Veterans Health Administration has applied remote monitoring widely to track a variety of conditions, including cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder – and has found that doing so resulted in a drop in the number of hospital visits and the number of emergency hospitalizations, among other improved outcomes.
Remote monitoring also provides healthcare providers with an unparalleled amount of information about their patients, both as a baseline and around emergencies. This data will hopefully better inform both researchers and practitioners in the future as to the progress and management of chronic disease as well as providing actionable information about the most effective treatments.
Limitations of Medical Technology
The technology does come with some limitations, though – for one, the patient needs to wear the device and use it correctly, and – on the other side of the equation – the care provider needs to consistently monitor patient data and act on warning signs. Furthermore, to function correctly the user will need to be in range of either wireless or mobile internet connectivity, which may be challenging in rural areas.
Nevertheless, the technology has the potential to provide improved health outcomes at a fraction of the cost of traditional treatment. The take-up of remote monitoring, meanwhile, shows little sign of slowing – by the end of 2016, there were more than 7 million patients, worldwide, using remote monitoring medical devices and this number is expected to grow to over 50 million users by 2021.
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