Perhaps the most disconcerting issue with the COVID-19 pandemic is the uncertainty. We have little knowledge regarding the spread of disease, our own current chance of infection, or the status of those who are sick but in confinement.
Imagine that there was more information from each and every one of us. Imagine sensors in place that could trigger alerts when one of us is infected, or if organ failure begins in a sick patient. Imagine if the data that we had was immediate, objective and robust, and could be delivered from the home. This would enable timely medical care, changing the natural course of the disease, preventing further deterioration or possible irreversible damage.
Today, with recommendations for social distancing, there is an imminent need for remote monitoring of patients, but practical solutions are scarce. Remote monitoring could be the solution, as early detection will lead to early treatment. This concept has long been the accepted notion in the fight against diseases within the medical community – whether it comes to heart diseases detection, diabetes or other ailments.
In 2015, the remote patient monitoring market in the US was valued at around $175 million and was expected to grow to almost $536 million by 2022, according to the Statista Research Department.
Remote monitoring also reduces the oversized burden – from human resources to hospital beds – that is currently placed on the healthcare industry. When in place, the medical community will be in a position to offer better care for the most ill people in our community, while the less infirmed and elderly will face a lower risk of contagion by being treated remotely.
If adoption of remote monitoring technologies becomes broader and faster, there is a very good chance that in a few years we will be able to stop pandemics in just a few weeks, not months or years. With on-site, real-time monitoring made possible through implantable and wearable technology, we will be able to detect a disease even before symptoms begin and save many lives. We will be able to lower valuable medical man-hours, the rates of hospitalizations will drop and there will be enough resources to focus on those who really need them during a crisis, such as the one we’re experiencing now.
The advent of smartwatches has given us an inclination of how self-monitoring works, but current solutions cannot even scratch the surface of where remote healthcare must go. Currently, smartwatches cannot predict major clinical events such as heart attacks or exacerbations of obstructive lung disease. Even in the case of cardiac arrhythmias, research has yet to show clinical efficacy in preventing and treating patients with atrial fibrillation or bradycardia, due to high false positive and false negative rates.
However, technology is quickly improving, supplying more accurate information, especially when collected from more robust technologies such as minimally invasive continuous monitors and implantable sensors.
IN THE not-so-distant future, wearable and implantable technologies will enter the pharmaceutical arena. No longer will it be solely the consumer’s choice to track heartbeats, glucose levels or steps taken via a smartwatch. Instead, medical providers will prescribe wearable and implantable technologies that offer monitoring and therapeutic benefits that were previously unimaginable. This would truly usher in an era of personalized care in patients, detection of side effects, and optimization of medical management in general.
To ensure that we are moving in this direction, remote patient treatment and monitoring must be part of the solution. If we go back to smartwatches for a moment, we see that wearable devices have great potential in the maintenance of healthy people. However, this is not the population that is putting a burden on healthcare systems – from HMOs in the US to national healthcare systems like they have in the UK and across Europe.
In addition, most of today’s wearable sensors are simply too limited in their capabilities and cannot provide profound physiological information. In most cases, achieving more valuable and robust data, however, still requires admission to the hospital.
So how do we cross these lines and get insightful and accurate data outside the hospital setting? Technological breakthroughs in remote monitoring will provide accurate, “gold standard” data for treatment, and this breakthrough will be led by implantable technologies.
Companies around the world are making great strides with implantable sensors and this will enable a future where long-term monitoring of physiological parameters – which today is available only in acute, hospital settings – will be readily accessible at home. This will reduce the burden associated with hospital admissions, putting the patient’s comfort and convenience as important requirements driving ingenuity.
Every year, more and more companies are entering the remote monitoring arena – each with their unique strategy, approach, and technological offering. The market of implantable sensor devices for remote monitoring is still at its early stages but we can already see interesting developments.
Medtech companies are making strides in injectable sensors that are designed to keep an eye on glaucoma. Companies are developing insertable cardiac monitoring systems to measure heart activity – or more precisely to be on the lookout for irregular heartbeats, as they occur infrequently, making the underlying condition hard to diagnose and treat. The world of continuous glucose monitoring and insulin pumps has completely re-invented the chronic care of patients with diabetes mellitus.
Finally, we are at the forefront of remote management of heart failure, a chronic disease that affects some 27 million people worldwide. There are now companies that offer remote measurement of the pressure inside the heart.
While most of the healthcare system is now focused on fighting the coronavirus, a strong sector in the field of remote healthcare monitoring is emerging – soldiering on to forge a new path that can detect and treat disease remotely. Various implantable, wearable, and proactive medical technologies are being developed today for a better tomorrow.
COVID-19 is a reminder that patients should be able to get the best treatment, regardless of where they are or the availability of emergency care beds and caregivers. Adopting more remote treatment and monitoring technologies will create a stronger infrastructure to handle peaks in the need for ICU beds during pandemics. It will also facilitate care from home during the daily routines of patients with chronic diseases.
The writer is co-founder and CEO of Vectorious Medical Technologies.