The use of at-home medical devices to connect doctors and patients via the Internet can help patients and their physicians work more efficiently together to manage chronic conditions, according to research at Cleveland Clinic.
In December 2008, Cleveland Clinic and Microsoft collaborated on a pilot project that pairs the hospital’s electronic medical records system with the software company’s online HealthVault service to monitor patients’ health conditions.
More than 250 participants enrolled – 26 percent with diabetes, 6 percent with heart failure and 68 percent with hypertension – making it the first physician-driven pilot project in the country to follow multiple chronic diseases in a clinical setting.
Both diabetes and high blood pressure patients went in for doctor's office visits less often as a result of the home monitoring.
The project found a significant change in the average number of days between physician office visits for patients. Diabetic and hypertensive patients were able to make doctor’s office visits less often, increasing the number of days between appointments by 71 percent and 26 percent respectively, indicating that patients had better control of their conditions. Heart failure patients, however, visited their doctors more often, decreasing the number of days between visits by 27 percent, indicating that patients were advised to see their healthcare provider in a more timely manner.
One can imagine that for diabetes and hypertension the home monitoring allowed more rapid identification of problems with changes in diet and drugs that prevented worsening. But people with heart failure are much sicker and so home monitoring probably more quickly alerts doctors to problems that need more advanced forms of treatment.
While reduced visits to the doctor saved money and time what I found interesting about this report was that fewer trips to the doctor were made as a result of home monitoring. This reminds me of a book I just finished reading: Peter Tertzakian's The End of Energy Obesity: Breaking Today's Energy Addiction for a Prosperous and Secure Tomorrow. Tertzakian argues that technology like Cisco's Telepresence (where images of virtual meeting attendees feel much more real than with videoconferencing) will play a big role in reducing the amount of commuting to offices and business trips. Trying to make cars and airplanes more efficient can't do as much for us as avoiding the need for travel in the first place.
The reduced need for trips to a doctor's office would especially help old people who either have lost the ability to drive or who at least have some diminished capacity behind the wheel. Besides, if you are sick driving is no fun.
The use of networked home monitoring equipment will start out with people who have medical conditions such as those in the study above. But as costs fall and monitoring equipment becomes more powerful its value for early detection will drive it out to most homes. Imagine biological testing equipment built into your sink and toilet that'll alert you to an early stage disease.