Home  |   Subscribe  |   Resources  |   Reprints  |   Writers' Guidelines

February 2019

HIT Happenings: Five Ways Technology Is Changing Patient Care
By Mary Gorder
For The Record
Vol. 31 No. 2 P. 6

Thanks to vast technological advances, the telemedicine field is quickly gaining momentum across mainstream America. In a nationwide survey of 5,000 patients conducted by Virtual Visits Consumer Choice Survey, 77% indicated they are willing to participate in a virtual care encounter, with 19% having already done so.

Becker’s Hospital Review estimates that the value of the telemedicine market is growing at 15% and will reach $36 billion by 2020, compared with $14 billion in 2013. While reimbursement remains an issue, more than one-half of the states have passed laws mandating that insurance companies cover telemedicine services.

Through remote management applications, sensors, and devices, patients with limited mobility, chronic conditions, and a lack of access to providers can have their vital signs, symptoms, progress, and treatment plans monitored from the comfort of their own homes.

The following are five ways in which technology is changing patient care for the better.

Medication Accuracy
More prescriptions are being prepared electronically, which reduces the errors made by misinterpreting handwritten prescriptions. Medication reconciliation is a huge patient safety issue. Medication-related errors harm an estimated 1.5 million people annually while killing several thousand at a cost estimated at $3.5 billion. More than 4 out of 5 adults take at least one medication, while almost one-third of Americans take five or more medications, a development that has led to increased misuse, overuse, and complications that have resulted in more than 3.5 million physician office visits, 1 million emergency department visits, and 125,000 hospital admissions each year.

To help combat the problem, software companies such as PatientKeeper and DrFirst provide integrated medication management software systems that offer effective ways to manage medications at each transition in care.

To ensure they take their prescribed medications, patients can choose from a variety of medication reminder devices, dispensers, and tracking devices. For example, MediSafe Medication Minder is a free, user-friendly iOS and Android app. Patients who frequent the pharmacies at retailers such as CVS, Rite Aid, Walmart, and Walgreens can use the app to upload their prescription history.

For patients who have difficulty taking medicine at the appropriate time, the modern-day version of the pillbox may be a good option. The Tabtime Vibe Vibrating Pill Timer Reminder has five different compartments with different alarms that vibrate and beep when it’s time to take a medication. At less than $20, it’s an economical option that easily fits into a purse or coat pocket.

For patients who prefer mobile alerts and reminders, Med Minder is a solid option. The dispenser, which holds four daily doses of medication, sends out digital reminders, including lights, beeps, and phone calls. It has its own cellular connection so it doesn’t need to be linked to a phone line or the internet.

Accessibility to Health Care
There are many reasons why providing access to quality health care is challenging. However, the industry continues to develop new breakthroughs with the potential for changing the outlook.

Technological platforms such as virtual telehealth help those limited by geography, financial resources, or mobility to have remote visits with health care providers, including specialists. It’s a convenient, financially viable way to increase accessibility, improve patient care, and even allow physicians to connect with their peers in tricky cases. In addition, medical records can be shared electronically between clinics, physicians, and patients for a higher level of care.

The drive to make telehealth available on a wider scale continues to make inroads. Currently, 34 states and the District of Columbia require that private insurers cover telehealth the same as they cover in-person services. Some insurers cover at least some telehealth services, while others have expressed interest in expanding their telehealth coverage.

Supervised Surgical Robotics
While the use of robotics in assisted surgeries is nothing new, autonomous robots are beginning to make their way into the operating room. In fact, in many cases the technology is improving patient outcomes. It can be argued the mechanical devices perform soft-tissue surgery more accurately than a human.

Count Peter Kim, associate chief surgeon at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., as one of the technology’s supporters. “Surgeons vary greatly in training, dexterity, experience, and decision-making. This is the reason why 30% of the world’s 232 million soft tissue surgeries result in complications. By embedding the knowledge of the best surgeons in digital systems, autonomous and semiautonomous robots [can] deliver universal access to the best surgical techniques,” he says.

While robots have a long way to go before they master the intellectual and in-the-moment decision-making skills of surgeons, they generally surpass their human counterparts in terms of their ability to do precise work quickly and repeatedly.

As technology advances, autonomous robots performing soft-tissue surgeries will be become more commonplace.

Wearable Sensors
Wearable devices have been around for a while to help monitor chronic diseases in the home, taking blood pressure and tracking weight and blood sugar levels, among other chores. But devices are becoming more mainstream, allowing a wider audience to learn about and take control of their health.

According to Grand View Research, the wearable market will become a $70 billion industry by 2022, with that number likely to grow as developers, engineers, and programmers create smaller and more efficient devices.

For the most part, these devices are used to monitor activity, an attribute that makes them ideal for the health care sector.

For better or worse, the new Apple Watch has the ability to perform electrocardiograms and notify users of an irregular rhythm. Both features have been FDA approved. Motiv Ring is a discreet 24/7 sleep, activity, and heart rate tracker that sports a three-day battery life. LifePlus recently introduced the first continuous, noninvasive wearable for glucose tracking.

Passive Monitoring
Passive remote patient monitoring devices can provide the aging population autonomy while collecting real-time health data. Devices that measure heat, detect falls, and monitor sleep patterns help keep the elderly population in their homes and out of hospitals and care facilities.

GreatCall’s Lively wearable, which doubles as a watch or a pendant, was designed with aesthetics in mind. It’s waterproof, is easy to use, and has a continuous battery life of six months. The device has fall detection technology; should an emergency occur, an app notifies the appropriate personnel as well as loved ones.

Lechal offers a line of smart shoe inserts to help visually impaired wearers more easily navigate the world at large. These smart insoles provide directional assistance in the form of gentle vibrations and phone notifications, giving the elderly a greater degree of independence.

— Mary Gorder is the founder and president of Drs. On Calls, a telemedicine platform that develops, markets, and operates House Medical Calls, Virtual Telemedicine Service, and Concierge Medical Services.