While the benefits of the new healthcare bill continue to be debated in Washington and around the dinner table, there’s one irrefutable fact: The healthcare landscape as we know it continues to dramatically change, and technologies enabling in-home medical care are significantly contributing to this transformation.

The move toward an ever more connected society where technology encompasses all aspects of our daily life has enabled the healthcare paradigm to evolve and empower the patient. Thanks to modern technology, medical devices that once were found only in a hospital or doctor’s office are finding their way in different form factors into our homes.

Soaring healthcare costs, the prevalence of obesity and chronic diseases, and a dramatic increase in the elderly population are creating a growing demand for affordable and reliable home medical devices. At the same time, advancements in medical technology have dramatically prolonged and improved the quality of life for countless people around the globe.

This “perfect storm” of unprecedented demand and innovation has turned medical electronics into the fastest growing industrial semiconductor segment. According to DataBeans, the medical electronics market is estimated to be valued at $128.6 billion, and it is expected to reach a market size of about $191.1 billion by 2015, resulting in a growth rate of 8% over the next 5 years.

Healthcare moves into the home

The growth in medical electronics is driven in part by the continued movement of patient care away from professional facilities, such as hospitals, and into the home environment. This development especially benefits mobility-challenged patients and those who don’t live near medical treatment facilities. Along with increasing monitoring effectiveness and patient convenience, this shift is also helping to reduce healthcare costs.

The migration of healthcare into the home is validated by the FDA’s Medical Device Home Use Initiative which presents guidelines for manufacturers, develops safe-use education for users and boosts post-market oversight.1 Even a recent Senate Special Committee on Aging reached a bipartisan consensus that “telehealth”-enabled home-care devices can help improve clinical outcomes and lower overall costs while increasing patient satisfaction. Telehealth, also known as telemedicine, makes it possible for healthcare professionals to provide medical services by using telecommunications technology.

From the healthcare provider point of view, the trend toward home patient care serves to improve the efficiency and reduce the costs incurred by doctors. A University of Virginia study found that home monitoring established a 36% reduction in billable medical procedures and a 78% reduction in hospital stays. Study director Dr. Robin Felder noted that even with “the reduced cost of care, the efficiency of the caregivers increased by over 50%.”2

To become a main factor in the way healthcare is managed, patient monitoring systems must be fully interoperable with each other and additional needed sources of patient information. While broad interoperability has not yet been achieved, it’s a priority for the medical and information technology industries. The Continua Health Alliance (continuaalliance.org), for example, is an organization working with technology, medical device, and healthcare industry leaders to establish a system of interoperable solutions.

Medical devices for diagnostics at home

Today’s medical devices designed for home use can monitor blood pressure, glucose levels and heart rates, and alert doctors to problems. This eliminates or reduces the need for costly office and hospital visits, and puts the control in the hands of the patient. A July 2009 PricewaterhouseCoopers report on health reform found that 73% of consumers indicated they would be interested in using remote monitoring.3 In anticipation of such demand, popular home use devices such as blood pressure monitors, weight scales, pulse oximeters and peak flow meters that are telehealth-connected are now either on the market or in development.

As healthcare shifts toward home-based applications, trends in increased computing power and the smaller size of electronic components have made possible the design of medical devices for consumers that are smaller, mechanically simpler and increasingly more powerful. In many cases, home-based devices now have diagnostic levels comparable to clinical and laboratory systems. One such device is the Wheezometer from Karmelsonix, a personal asthma device that lets the user measure their wheeze rate anytime, anywhere and provides guidance as to the appropriate medication level.

Who would have thought that in 2010, as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), devices like the PocketCPR from ZOLL Medical would be available? This palm-sized, portable device shows people uninitiated in the science of administering CPR how to correctly administer the technique to save a life.

In the coming years, technology innovations will continue to dramatically transform the healthcare landscape. And sooner rather than later, medical devices now considered merely the stuff of science fiction will actually be sitting in medicine cabinets.

Sources

1. FDA Steps Up Oversight of Home Medical Devices, April 22, 2010. http://bit.ly/9xDaX4
2. Senate aging panel looks at role of broadband, home health technologies, May 4, 2010. http://bit.ly/d2DqiU
3. Jammed access: Widening the front door to healthcare, July 2009. http://bit.ly/j79Gke