Global market for telehealth tech on upswing

By Bernie Monegain
09:15 AM
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Remote patient monitoring, or telehealth, has taken huge strides forward, with demand for this technology on the rise – especially among home-care agencies, disease management companies and clinical trial groups, according to a new report from market research firm Frost & Sullivan.

The advent of low-energy Bluetooth, near-field communication (NFC), secure data management and wireless sensor platforms together are driving a change in how healthcare is delivered – from a hospital-centric to a patient-centric approach, the report notes. Participation from market giants, such as GE, Google, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Philips, Qualcomm, Siemens and Wal-Mart, has enabled development of remote monitoring products that effectively interface IT and life science technologies.

Frost & Sullivan’s analysis, Remote Patient Monitoring Technologies – A Strategic Assessment, finds that with the escalating need to manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), asthma, liver diseases and congestive heart failure, especially in the elderly population, the demand for wireless monitoring has increased significantly over the past few years.

"The demand for simple and easy-to-understand technology for chronic disease management at home using telehealth, especially for elderly people, has not only shown an increase in its demand in the U.S., Europe and Japan, but also in emerging and lucrative markets, such as India, China and other South Asian countries," said Technical Insights research associate Arjunvasan Ambigapathy. "The development of new technologies and availability of sufficient funding from government agencies and venture capital firms has stoked growth in the RPM market over the past few years."

The Remote Monitoring Access Act of 2007 offers financial incentives for potential users of RPM solutions and services, for efficiently managing chronic diseases under the Medicare Program. The market has incrementally developed over the past 12 months, assisted by investments from major companies that focused on the development of end-to-end wireless health and wellness solutions, said Ambigapathy.

[See also: Telemedicine speaker calls for next-generation monitoring IT.]

Despite being a high growth market, barriers to customer adoption include the absence of wide scale reimbursement, the lack of standardization and global regulatory policies governing technology usage, he said. Low awareness levels among patients and issues surrounding security of patient data also contribute to delays in the adoption lifecycle. Unlike other reimbursable technologies classified by a respective common procedure terminology (CPT) code, there are no specific codes assigned to telehealth or mHealth solutions. Reimbursement for electronic health record solutions indirectly benefits telehealth vendors.

[See also: Sprint, BL Healthcare add power to remote care.]

To be successful in this marketplace, it has become essential for technology developers to roll out high-quality, low-cost solutions that are available worldwide, the research shows. For instance, the Health Buddy system developed by Robert Bosch Healthcare is an intelligent system, which not only focuses on measuring vital signs, but also fosters patient self-management by asking sensible questions and providing feedback on patient health behavior, Ambigapathy noted. The company is also working in collaboration with the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services on a demonstration project, expected to heighten awareness levels while considerably reducing healthcare costs to its adopters.

To understand customer perceptions, companies are constantly conducting periodic surveys and feedback to evolve their products. "Going forward, a higher degree of technological sophistication is expected in the design of high-performance medical sensors that can be easily integrated with wireless networks," said Ambigapathy. "Ultra-low-power sensing hardware architecture, computation, and communication for extending overall battery life are the other areas where technological advancements are expected."

Companies operating in this domain have found that it is easier to acquire a new technology or company rather than develop a new technology from scratch. Thus, acquisition of a competitive portfolio would enable high synergies by reducing market entry time, overcoming regulatory barriers and incorporating a competitive brand name for the technology.