Rising healthcare costs are a concern in many areas of the world because medical expenses are paid, at least in part, by taxpayer money. Even in a country like the U.S., where millions of people have private coverage, emergency rooms in hospitals that accept government-funded Medicare cannot refuse treatment to any individual regardless of insurance status.
By most estimates, the average trip to the emergency room (ER) in the U.S. costs $1,500 to $2,500. Considering that recent research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated the number of trips per year to be 136.3 million, it’s easy to see why healthcare costs are such a polarizing and critical issue for the nation.
The CDC’s research also showed that the number of injury-related visits to the ER was 40.2 million, meaning that the other nearly 100 million visits might have been avoided with preventative care. A visit to a doctor’s office costs significantly less on average than a trip to the ER, so the U.S. and other countries are desperately trying to find a way to cut down on the number of avoidable ER trips made each year.
One of the possible solutions is the development of smart medical homes that can measure patient health and alert both the individual and a medical professional if a problem arises. These homes—and the individuals themselves—can be outfitted with a number of connected machine-to-machine (M2M) medical devices that use sensors to monitor patient health and can transmit information to healthcare workers.
So, what would a smart medical home look like? One feature might be a connected wearable device that monitors glucose levels for a diabetic patient. Even sneakers could be outfitted with sensors that function as gait monitors to measure changes in walking patterns over time to detect a limp or shuffle that could be a symptom of a more serious illness or injury.
As these kinds of products become staples of the home environment, they will occupy a larger piece of the total M2M market. Recent market analysis from Juniper Research, for example, projects the smart wireless healthcare and fitness device services market will reach $1.8 billion by 2019.
Because home-based M2M medical devices monitor critical vital signs, they must be supported by reliable wireless connectivity and have the capacity to transmit data steadily and quickly.
However, when it comes to remote patient monitoring, 2G and 3G are not sufficient for live video feed. 4G LTE, which offers lower latency, is needed to transmit high-quality video from a patient’s home to the caregiver in real time.
LTE also offers another important benefit – the ability to use smart medical devices outside of the home. Because LTE is a cellular connection rather than Wi-Fi or ZigBee, a patient can be monitored anywhere there is LTE coverage. This flexibility allows them to enjoy their independence without worrying about staying connected.
4G LTE certainly fits the bill, but for many years the technology was considered too expensive and consumed too much power to be viable for these kinds of devices.
That paradigm is now shifting, however, with the advent of low-power 4G LTE chipsets that conserve power and battery life by controlling data flow. These chipsets make the prospect of building 4G capability into devices more financially feasible for manufacturers and will, ultimately, increase adoption of connected medical technology.
On top of the potentially massive economic benefits these new-age homes may provide, they will also help at-risk individuals avoid medical scares and give their families peace of mind. In other words, the smart medical home concept is moving forward and 4G LTE will help push it along.