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Signs of Success in Home Medical Monitoring

In a pilot project, technology reduced doctor’s visits for patients with chronic illness, but will this work on a broader scale?
March 1, 2010

Connecting patients and their physicians through the internet might help cut down on office visits, according to results of a pilot project announced today. More than 250 patients with chronic diseases, namely diabetes, heart failure, and hypertension, participated in the study, tracking their health at home with heart rate monitors, glucometers, scales, pedometers or blood pressure monitors. Data from those devices was then uploaded to the patient’s HealthVault record, a personal medical record system developed by Microsoft. That data was in turn connected to the electronic medical records used by the Cleveland Clinic, allowing doctors to monitor their patients remotely.

According to a press release from the Cleveland Clinic,

The project found a significant change in the average number of days between physician office visits for patients. Diabetic and hypertensive patients were able to make doctor’s office visits less often, increasing the number of days between appointments by 71 percent and 26 percent respectively, indicating that patients had better control of their conditions. Heart failure patients, however, visited their doctors more often, decreasing the number of days between visits by 27 percent, indicating that patients were advised to see their healthcare provider in a more timely manner.

… “Making it easier for patients to more actively engage in their ongoing health and wellness is a necessary step in trying to manage the increasing onset of chronic disease worldwide and the costs associated with this alarming trend,” said Peter Neupert, corporate vice president, Microsoft Health Solutions Group. “The results of this pilot are promising and demonstrate how cost-effective and flexible technology solutions can support patients in better monitoring their chronic conditions from where they live and work.”

Any option for reducing health care costs is, at the moment, a hot topic. But how successful will this type of program be on a broader scale? My doctor belongs to a tech-savvy medical practice. (One of the first, in fact, to adopt electronic medical records.) And despite a handy online system that allows me to check my test results and contact my physicians, I can’t even get him to answer emails. So I have a hard time imagining him poring over reams of heart rate and blood pressure data.

The question is not just whether the system reduced office visits, but whether it helped cut down physician’s time expenditure per patient, either by helping patients stick to their treatment plans, or by transferring some of the evaluation process to less-skilled personnel or even a computer program. It’s unclear from the information released whether patients better monitored their own health, which perhaps made them more compliant with medication regimens, reducing the need to see the doctor. Or whether a nurse or other health care practitioner was able to monitor the medical record, only alerting the doctor of concerning data.

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