The healthcare industry is increasingly using telemedicine to monitor patients remotely. Use of the lifesaving technology is expanding in the United States, and is being considered by medical centers in Australia, South Korea and elsewhere.
Now providers of monitoring systems are taking advantage of wireless technology and high speed internet connections to do even more.
A man has a serious heart condition. A device regulating his heart rhythm is implanted in his chest. It can deliver a life-saving shock if an abnormal heartbeat occurs… and from home, the device automatically transmits information on his condition to his physicians.
Dr. George Crossley says, "These devices allow us to know ahead of time when patients are beginning to develop problems with their congestive heart failure. The wireless transmission of heart failure information is going to have a huge impact on the care of patients."
Tested and approved by government regulators, the device sends medical alerts at scheduled times or whenever there's a change in the patient's condition. It can detect fluid buildups in the lungs or chest, often the first sign of heart failure.
Dr. Crossley describes the benefit. "The level of care with these devices will be significantly raised, mainly by providing for disease management capabilities that we have never had."
Here is another use of wireless home health care technology: By touching a picture on a computer screen and logging onto the Internet, John and Virginia monitor their aging parent living across town. "We are monitoring her activities and that's the main thing. It makes me feel more secure.'
Eighty year-old Virginia's home is equipped with motion detectors that transmit her activities.
An experimental house has even more smart technology specifically created for an aging population. The sensor-equipped bed allows nurses to monitor sleep and heart rhythms remotely, and a smart medicine cabinet helps manage a patient's medications and if a mistake is made it sounds an alarm.
Dr. Eric Tangalos says smart technology is a tremendous help. "Smart technologies give us an opportunity to keep people at home longer and safer and better."
Finally, the ultimate in audio and video telemedicine is an electronic intensive care unit outside Washington D.C., run by Dr. Elizabeth Cowboy. "One doctor at a bedside can maybe see 20 patients. We can easily see, because we don't have to run from room to room or hospital, I can manage 160 patients from this side of the camera."
Teams of critical care physicians and nurses are monitoring 168 patients right now from a single location.
Dr. Cowboy adds, "Right now we have 10 stations up. We can serve about 240 to 300 patients here. We have the ability for this to go slightly larger and we can serve 300 patients without moving out of the facility we have here."
The state-of-the-art lifesaving system is supplementing what health officials say is a severe shortage of critical care physicians around the world. A January 2004 evaluation of the electronic intensive care unit (I.C.U.) said it has reduced the length of hospital stays for I.C.U patients by 17 percent and reduced hospital mortality by 25 percent.