Home health monitoring: Could this data wave drown physicians?

July 8, 2014

The coming wave of biosensors and wearable devices will be a great benefit to doctors--provided they can make use of the data in a meaningful way.

Technology holds tremendous promise to help physicians catch health problems earlier and save lives, but the next wave of technological tools to monitor your patient’s health may far exceed your practice’s ability to manage this new flood of data.

In 2013, more than $250 million in venture capital poured into the development of biosensors and wearable devices, according to a June 2014 report released by Rock Health, an organization that helps secure funding for tech start-ups. That’s up nearly five-fold since just 2011. And it pales in comparison to revenue projections in the next few years that could swell to $6 billion, according to IMS Health.

Daniel R. VerdonSensor prices are dropping, and smartphone adoption and app development is increasing at a time when value-based healthcare, through accountable care organizations and other models, are looking for fresh ways to better treat expensive chronic health conditions and hold down hospital costs.

Wearable devices are here, from a Zio Patch that monitors heart arrhythmias to Google’s plans to test and seek Food and Drug Administration approval of a smart contact lens to measure glucose levels in diabetic patients and transmit that data directly to physicians. The technological development of these wearable health devices is so new that Rock Health says they could not even have been created just three years ago.

The technology is transformative, and will be driven by both consumer demand and real directives from the Affordable Care Act to reduce healthcare costs overall.

What has not been talked about enough is how much this technology will disrupt the way you conduct business, see patients, communicate, engage them, build adherence and staff your practices.

And yet, even if you find yourself, as I am, swept away in the promise and vision of these amazing little gadgets and their role in helping physicians and healthcare teams save lives, two of the most important operational questions that might make this technology successful are virtual unknowns. Who is going to pay for it, and who is going to ultimately manage these data streams within practices and take action on behalf of patients?

In this issue’s cover story “Remote patient monitoring” on page 18, Medical Economics examines many of the issues related to home monitoring and its potential impact on primary care practices.

Some of the key points to remember include:

As with any new technology or service, physicians need to carefully examine costs and revenue potential. On the cost side of the ledger, time and staffing requirements will likely be the biggest question marks. Payer buy-in will be the other caveat, especially as it relates to changing patient behaviors and improving outcomes while lowering costs.

If remote monitoring ever reaches the tipping point of managing chronic disease conditions commonly seen by internists or family physicians, joining clinically integrated networks to share resources may be an option for practices. (Examples being tested are described in our cover story.)

Analytics and interaction with electronic health records are considered the two weakest links currently with remote monitoring.

While technology remains an important catalyst to advance medicine in ways only imagined just a few years ago, the pace of development is happening faster than a practice’s ability to adopt it, integrate it, manage it, and, in some cases, pay for it. Technology’s future might be now, but most practices may be forced to put it off until tomorrow.