Sep 052011
 
Universal health care

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Chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and other recurring conditions top the list of health threats that impact the greatest number of people and contribute to high healthcare expenses worldwide.

The cost of treating chronic conditions accounts for an estimated two-thirds of global healthcare spending. Wireless technology is poised to greatly reduce these expenses and improve overall quality of life for millions by enabling the ability to stay interconnected – patients to doctors to medical devices to health data and more. The standard wireless infrastructure has been in place and has proven successful for decades, and the healthcare industry is quickly finding ways to capitalisze on the wireless advantage to solve critical challenges faced by an overburdened system.

The world’s population is ageing with 600-million people aged 60 or older.[1]. In addition, the risk of chronic disease increases dramatically after age 55. At the same time, and depending on the healthcare system, retired people typically contribute less to health insurance premiums, further burdening the financial structure. Healthcare systems around the world are stretched beyond their limits and facing exponential cost increases over the next years.

It is therefore not surprising that the medical industry is turning to innovations in wireless technology to cut costs and bring about dramatic improvements in healthcare. Telehealth or mHealth solutions integrate cellular-device or machine to machine (M2M)-based wireless communications to improve patient treatment and simplify the healthcare delivery process. Traditionally, medical devices worked as individual units, monitoring one aspect of health for a specific purpose. However, new telehealth solutions use cellular M2M technology and web-based platforms to connect monitoring devices, aggregate medical data and visualise overall patient well-being for improved treatment. The new systems allow quick and easy access to medical data and deliver a clear and complete picture of all aspects of a patient’s health without ignoring the very important aspects of security, safety, and privacy of the patient and medical professional.

A good example is Aerotel’s award-winning e-CliniQ Connect-Cell telehealth homecare hub. Connect-Cell is used by patients in the comfort of their own homes to help manage chronic conditions. It automatically collects data from Bluetooth-enabled medical sensing devices as well as wired devices (blood pressure, weight, heart rate, etc.) and uses a Cinterion M2M module to securely send data over cellular networks to a health monitoring center. Authorised doctors and clinicians can log in at anytime and from anywhere in the world to access health measurements and remotely determine treatment approaches.

Telehealth solutions can be used for a variety of purposes: monitoring patient compliance during medication treatment (pill reminders); monitoring and managing elderly and chronic disease patients with wearable “health monitors” (ambient assisted living); monitoring patients with diabetes and providing prompts to help bring blood glucose levels back to a normal range (chronic care management) and much more. With a telemonitoring device, a consulting physician can remotely monitor a patient’s health status in real time and immediately react in case of emergency – no matter if the patient is at home, on the bus, at the movies or anywhere in the course of daily life. Consistent and constant oversight can greatly improve treatment, keep patients healthier and avoid expensive hospitalisation. In fact, a recent study by Philips showed compelling and tangible benefits gained from telehealth solutions: 89% of health agencies reported an increase in quality outcomes, 76% cited reduction in unplanned hospitalisations, 77% cited reduction in emergency room visits and 76% reported patients improving self care by proactive disease management [1].

Mobile network operators (MNOs) have now fully embraced the promise of M2M technology which is accelerating the mHealth revolution. mHealth solutions are attractive to MNOs because they typically use very little wireless network bandwidth for operations and subscriber churn is extremely low compared to the typical cell phone customer. Most of the world’s major MNOs have developed separate business divisions devoted to growing the M2M market segment.

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