Guest blogger Andrew Parton, Joint Managing Director, Hugo Technology (Bromsgrove, UK), writes:
We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of the changes that the web will bring to healthcare. Until now, it’s been mostly telecare innovations—remote monitoring of patients with long-term conditions. This is now rapidly moving towards telehealthcare, which we define as clinicians remotely treating patients’ long-term conditions while they remain at home. That revolution has only just begun. It has been made economically possible by the Internet, because it allows masses of information to be sent back to the clinician and for actions to be disseminated in an integrated way thereafter. There are several drivers behind telehealthcare:
- early warnings allow clinicians to prevent conditions from escalating
- treatment programmes can be adapted to respond to shifting symptoms
- stress is reduced in the patient population
- there is less risk of cross-infection because patients are treated in the comfort of their own homes.
The biggest driver, however, is cost savings. We all need to do more with less. Telehealthcare offers tremendous savings compared with current practices, and they go well beyond savings in patient transport costs.It doesn’t take a lot to cost-justify a monitoring system for someone suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. There is a three-day window during which worsening symptoms can be identified before the patient will need to be hospitalised. A £2500 investment in telehealthcare could prevent a £10,000 stay in a hospital (using NHS benchmarks).
Clinicians will need to learn to consult at a distance, but OEMs face an equal challenge. Their engineers have been used to visiting hospitals and servicing several machines; now, they will need to visit many homes. That means they will regularly come face to face with patients, so they must be checked with the Criminal Records Bureau. What’s more, they will need to be versed in common courtesies such as offering to remove their shoes before they enter a patient’s home.
These engineers also must understand medtech implicitly because it works to much tighter tolerances than many other disciplines. A monitor that is out by 1% could be life threatening. Take Nutricia’s enteral feeding pumps, which we’ve serviced, repaired and calibrated at our workshop for the last eight years. Patients on special diets use these at home, but they still have to go to their doctor to have the dosage altered. Now, that may all change. Clinicians are able to consult with patients through an Internet-enabled interface. For us, it means we soon may be able to remotely determine why a unit is failing. That is a massive time and financial saving when you consider that, eight times out of 10, unit failure is caused by user error.
As the telehealthcare trend grows, be prepared to see medtech OEMs radically adapt their service teams to respond to this seismic shift. They’ll either invest in bigger teams or, in the case of the cost-wise ones, outsource it to those who already are running an army that works to their ISO 13485 standards.
Whichever way the OEMs react, the winners will be those who manage to yoke telehealthcare to high levels of patient service. As science erodes the distance between patient and clinician, the medtech guardians must ensure that distance is not inserted between us and the highest standards of care.