International Telemedicine Up-Date

‘Next generation’ wrist-worn telemedicine device will check lung, blood pressure Hospitals routinely use electrocardiogram (ECG) tests to check a patient’s heart condition. Now a cardiac telemedicine company hopes to extend that care to a patient’s lungs, blood pressure and body temperature. Manchester, United Kingdom-based Broomwell Healthwatch is developing a “next generation” monitoring system for lung disease sufferers, who can wear a wrist unit at home to monitor their blood pressure, temperature, pulse, oxygen saturation, heart rate and breathing. Data is then transmitted to physicians via Internet or phone line. As with the ECG version, the system is expected to speed up analysis of a patient’s medical condition, and eliminate unnecessary referrals. According to BH Chairperson Joshua Rowe, the system can be combined with existing monitoring care effort for persons dealing with heart, stroke or diabetes. The system is currently being tested at 31 of the UK’s 152 Primary Care Trusts.

FCC on verge of approving bandwidth for first Mobile Body Area Networks Mobile body area networks (MBANs) are a step closer to reality, with the Aerospace & Flight Test Radio Coordinating Council (AFTRCC) now favoring the idea of allocating additional broadband width for medical devices. In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed a plan to set aside bandwidth for MBANs, which allows healthcare professionals to remotely monitor patients’ body temperature, blood pressure, blood glucose level and other vitals through disposable wireless devices, using short-length radio waves. AFTRCC opposed the proposal because it would use the same radio bands that aircraft manufacturers do for testing planes, according to Delroy Smith, technical product design lead for Philips Healthcare’s informatics and patient-monitoring business. In the past six months, however, healthcare industry officials and AFTRCC, which represents manufacturers such as Raytheon, Boeing and Cessna, reached an agreement on mitigation measures that would help manage any interference that could result from sharing the wireless spectrum. The FCC is expected to decide on the MBAN final rules later this year.

At-home medication dispenser to keep patients on track with prescription drugs A Canadian manufacturer of remote healthcare technologies is developing an at-home drug dispenser to help ensure patients have access to and take medication when they need to. The National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program awarded $300,000 to Ottawa, Ontario-based PharmaTrust Inc. to build the “MedHome” unit, a home version of the $1.5 million pharmacy-style MedCentre it developed in 2009. According to Minister of Industry Tony Clement, MedHome will dispense medical doses personalized to the patient at preset times and sends out reminders, which is particularly effective for people with dementia. The technology also includes an Internet connectable monitoring system, including a monitoring bracelet that can send medical information about the patient to a healthcare provider such as a physician or pharmacist, Clement said. PharmaTrust hopes to have the product in the commercial trial stage this summer, company Chief Executive Officer Don Waugh said.

Thailand to launch first online doctor-patient consultation system A new online medical system will allow residents in Thailand to communicate and consult with doctors while at home, a first for the tiny Asian country. According to Khanat Kruthkul, manager of Ramathibodi Hospital Cardiovascular and Metabolic Centre in Bangkok, the “Home Medical” project will be launched this year, with an initial focus on Ramathibodi’s elderly and disabled patients. Initially, those patients will be able to use the Web to access and communicate with doctors, and the doctors can monitor patients’ conditions and ask them to describe symptoms while they are home, Kruthkul said. Home Medical will “help reduce the complexity of patient information among hospitals, which will lead to reduced time needed when consulting a doctor,” Kruthkul added.

Absence of health IT means less-effective healthcare for rural and ethnic Americans Lack of health information technology affects healthcare for rural and Native Americans, ethnic minorities in poor, urban communities and Alaskan Natives more than other ethnicities, according to a series of reports by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) Foundation. The results indicate that absence of different forms of health IT–including telehealth and mobile health technologies–lead to inferior health outcomes for those groups. AHIMA’s reports examined the use of health IT in diabetes and self-health management, challenges to the use of health IT among minorities, the role of mobile healthcare in linguistically diverse populations, and efforts to improve provision of telemedicine by facilities in Georgia and Alaska. The reports appear in the Winter 2011 edition of AHIMA’s Perspectives in Health Information Management.

Wireless patient monitoring to top $6 billion by 2012, grow 26 percent per year The remote and wireless patient monitoring market is expected to grow by 26 percent annually through 2014, according to a report from New York City-based healthcare market research publisher Kalorama Information. The report notes that the growth is expected to result from increased concern over extreme wait times at doctors’ offices, to the point where “some employees may have to take a sick or personal day to see the physician for what might be a routine visit. Technology might help avoid that scenario.” One example cited is at Houston-based NuPhysicia, which uses video telemedicine to connect board-certified doctors with employee patients for examinations, diagnoses, medical care and wellness coaching. The company asserts that its service can minimize sick days for employees and improve efficiency. Such innovation will help the wireless patient monitoring market surpass $6 billion in 2012, the report notes.

Baby boomers’ demand for wireless and mHealth products to hit $12 billion by 2020 Aging, tech-savvy baby boomers who want to retain control over their own lives will lead to a near-tripling of their adoption of wireless and mobile health (mHealth) products by 2020, according to a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Enterprise Forum of the Northwest. Study lead author lead author Michael Gallelli notes that the nation’s 78 million baby boomers–the oldest of whom turn 65 this year–will help the mHealth information technology market grow to $4.6 billion by 2014 and to $12 billion by 2020. Most of these boomers, like the generation of Xers behind them, have expressed a “high willingness” to use home-based health monitoring devices, particularly health and fitness software; mobile health applications; personal emergency response services; remote monitoring tools; and telemedicine technology. The growth in connected health, along with soaring healthcare costs coupled with rapid adoption of mobile technologies will create an “explosion of personal data,” creating numerous opportunities for entrepreneurs, Gallelli said.

FDA to revise system for granting 510(k) marketing approval of medical devices In March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will implement a plan with more than two dozen ways to revise the 35-year-old system used to approve most telehealth-related medical devices before they can go to market. According to Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, the 25 planned actions will result in “a smarter medical device program that supports innovation, keeps jobs here at home, and brings important, safe, and effective technologies to patients quickly.” The new process includes streamlining the review process for certain innovative, lower-risk medical devices; clarifying when clinical data should be submitted in a premarket submission; and establishing a new Center Science Council of senior FDA experts to “assure timely and consistent science-based decision making.” While the FDA notes that the changes will make it easier for the agency to revoke 510(k) approval for products that prove ineffective or unsafe, manufacturers argue that they will make approvals longer and more expensive. About 4,000 devices, including those for e-health and pharmaceuticals, are cleared every year under the 510(k) system.

European Parliament approves use of cross-border healthcare, telemedicine The European Parliament has passed a directive that allows European Union-nation residents to seek healthcare anywhere within the EU, regardless of international borders. The action helps patients with rare diseases seeking advanced treatments, people living along borders where the nearest hospital is across the line, or those who work in one country but want to get treatment near family members in another country. The directive applies whether the patient receives treatment in person or remotely through telemedicine, according to French EP Member Francoise Grossetete. To protect against a surge in foreign patients at various healthcare facilities, health services can request prior authorization from doctors in the patient’s home country when a hospital stay is required. The intention, according to the parliament, “is absolutely not to encourage cross-border healthcare as such, but to ensure its availability, safety and quality.”

Mobile health device manufacturers should move ahead with new products Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is deciding how best to tackle new challenges brought about by connected health devices, makers of mobile health products should not wait to bring their products to market, according to one of the agency’s department heads. Dan Schultz, former director of the Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said people should not be “sitting and waiting” for the FDA to revise the way it handles wireless health products, but should instead take the opportunity to develop products that demonstrate how responsible manufacturers can be. “Then, should there be changes and more specific regulatory policies, then at least they have something to go back to and say that they didn’t just go out there willy-nilly and market a product that was a device without going to the (FDA),” Schultz said. The FDA last week issued a set of revised protocols for approval of medical devices, but they are not expected to be fully in place until summer at the earliest.