Date: May 1st, 2007
Living with chronic illness is time-consuming and costly. Frequent (or unnecessary) trips to the doctor's office or emergency room take a toll, not just physically, but emotionally and socially as well. With an aging population and chronic diseases on the rise, the ability of the health care system to effectively cope is threatened. But a promising new technology can ease the burden on both health care facilities and patients and improve the quality of life for elderly Americans living with conditions such as diabetes, heart failure, and cardiac arrhythmia.
Remote monitoring allows health care professionals to diagnose and treat chronic diseases without a patient having to leave home. Instead of going to the doctor's office or clinic to have their vital signs checked or symptoms monitored, patients can record their own key health information, such as blood pressure, weight, or heart rate using special equipment at home and then send the data by telephone, computer, or wireless to the doctor. This lets the doctor get an accurate picture of a patient's health in real- time and prevent problems before they get worse or a person needs to be hospitalized. By closely monitoring blood sugar levels for example, a doctor could adjust a medication, schedule a checkup, or suggest a change in diet or exercise to help a patient with diabetes better manage their condition and avoid serious complications. Similarly, people with pacemakers or those with an irregular heartbeat can use remote monitoring to send their doctor an up-to-date record of heart activity, so problems can be picked up right away instead of later at a clinic or office visit. This could help prevent a heart attack or stroke.
Remote monitoring eases anxiety, fosters independence, and encourages elderly patients to learn about and take control of their own health. For those who live in rural areas or who have limited mobility, it allows them to stay in constant touch with the doctor while eliminating the need to travel to and from the doctor's office or outpatient clinic.
Still, home-based technologies aren't a panacea; communicating with a physician face-to-face is still important for the overall quality of care patients receive. For routine evaluations such as taking vital signs and tracking symptoms however, remote monitoring makes sense. It saves time, lowers costs, and brings high quality care from hospital to home.
Although the convenience of remote monitoring alleviates pressure on the health care system, a lack of Medicare reimbursement is keeping it from being widely used. Because Medicare rules don't provide payment for doctor-patient interactions that aren't face-to-face, there is no incentive for doctors to adopt these technologies. Legislation is now being proposed to reform Medicare and allow reimbursement for doctors and other health care professionals for the time they spend checking the information from remote monitoring devices and following-up with patients.
Remote monitoring has the potential to save lives and money. Removing barriers that prevent its widespread use is a commonsense approach that will help this new technology become a vital tool in enhancing healthy aging and quality of life among older Americans.