Biometric monitors face technology gap

By Jeff Rowe
12:29 PM

The potential for smartphones to help with biometric monitoring was immediately apparent to many clinical researchers. When medical conditions required a patient to be notified about a condition change, their mobile phone would naturally be available to send the message.

mobile health conferenceKent Dicks was caught up in that wave of excitement. He was part of a startup called MedApps, which was building a platform to monitor patients with chronic diseases and dispatch the data to providers and case managers via smartphone apps. But there was a hitch.

"We quickly realized," he said recently, "that the demographics didn't necessarily match up." Seniors were the demographic segment in greatest need of the application for chronic conditions such as diabetes and chronic heart failure. For this group, smartphones were more of an impediment to progress than an opportunity.

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On Tuesday, Dec. 10, at the HIMSS Media mHealth Summit in National Harbor, Md., Dicks will talk about bimetric monitoring at the Why Mobile Matters symposium.

Part of the solution is a product, HealthPal, developed by Alere (which acquired MedApps). HealthPal is a wireless device whose sole function is to talk to all chronic disease biometric monitors and send the resulting data to the cloud for access by providers and case managers. The current focus is on using HealthPal to reduce hospital readmissions. Dicks said trials at institutions like the Cleveland Clinic and Partners HealthCare in Boston have resulted in reductions ranging from 47 percent to 70 percent.

As Dicks sees it, the key to mHealth in the future is going to revolve around simplicity.

"The goal is to connect to the patient in the most efficient manner and get the data to where it needs to be," he said. "It doesn't have to be through a sexy smartphone."

In fact, as mHealth spreads, Dicks sees the technology becoming more disposable. For example, upon discharge from the hospital, a patient could be issued a disposable patch, the operating system for which comes from the cloud. The patch will serve its monitoring purpose for the prescribed period, send the data back to the cloud, and at the end of that period the patient will throw the device away.

One more key piece to the mHealth puzzle, Dicks said, will come in the form of payers willing to reimburse providers for treating patients -- remotely, if possible -- in their homes.  

"We've been dragging the sickest of the sick into the hospital to be seen," he noted. "But why drag patients in when they can be kept at home and monitored remotely. There's less wear and tear on them, and less susceptibility to infections."

More information on this and other sessions are available at the HIMSS Media mHealth Summit website.

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