Monday, May 24, 2010

High Tech Devices May Assist Effectiveness of Healthcare Reform

One of the major goals of healthcare reform is to promote prevention, early diagnosis and primary care intervention for the greatest part of the population currently living unhealthy lifestyles. A significant obstacle to this has been the reluctance of patients to follow up on physician suggestions for testing and treatment usually done at hospitals. And even if they start now that they will have insurance coverage, the costs to the system will be significant.

New technology may soon be providing solutions to both of these issues. Soon many diagnostic capabilities that have been only done in hospitals may be available in physician offices or even patient homes. The combination of new lower cost computing devices, digital sensors and the web are making diagnosing and monitoring patients far more accessible.

Healthcare reform is pushing the development of primary care alternatives like medical homes to be more available to patients. The problem has been that accurate diagnosis and monitoring of the patients condition have relied on patient followup to hospital based or other freestanding modalities. What if all of these modalities could be available in the medical home with monitoring devices sent home with the patient?

This is not far off. Consider the case of sleep studies. Up to this point to conduct a worthwhile sleep study has required that the patient spend the night in a hospital based or freestanding facility in a strange environment hooked up with wires coming from everywhere. This is how we expect to study the patients normal sleep patterns. The inconvenience and intimidation of this test keeps many patients away until symptoms are severe. Also the cost of this test can be as much as $4,000.

Watermark has now developed a device that is smaller than a deck of cards and worn on the patient's forehead held on by a headband. There is a tube which runs to the patient's nose. The patients wears this at home for a night or two then the information that it gathered is sent via web to a sleep disorder specialist who returns a diagnosis within 48 hours. Total cost is well under half of a conventional sleep study.

As more diagnostic modalities like this one are developed. We can truly make diagnosis and monitoring of patients far more accessible. Cost savings will come not just from the testing itself but also from keeping these patients conditions in check thus avoiding costly hospitalizations.

More on this later.

Mark Brodeur

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