Home patient monitoring slowly gets on its feet

December 04, 2012 // By Rick Merritt
An historic shift in moving chronic health care out of the hospital and into the home is going slower than expected but is inevitable, said the chief executive of a company pioneering the field.

“We’ve been fighting this battle for six to ten years--health care doesn’t move fast,” said Kent Dicks, CEO of Alere Connect, formerly MedApps. “We still need more proven test cases, but you will see this come in your lifetime—in the next four to ten years,” Dicks predicted in a talk at the BioMeDevice event .

Alere Connect makes a range of portable health care devices using a mix of Bluetooth, MICS and Wi-Fi currently used in a range of trials with at least six health care providers. About 100,000 remote patient monitoring systems are in use in the U.S. today, a number that is expected to leap to 1.3 million within eight years, Dicks said.

The systems are primarily used to monitor chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and congestive heart failure. They are being employed by a range of hospitals, clinics and health care organizations trying to prevent costly hospital visits as well as by drug makers in clinical trials.

Dicks claimed a “perfect storm” of factors will accelerate the trend including emerging standards and increasingly low cost cellular links.

“Data transmissions for biometric readings that use to cost $5 to $8 now cost $1.50 and they are going to the 20 to 50 cent range,” he said. “When you have that kind of pricing, it’s a game changer."

Regulations and reimbursement practices still don’t widely support remote monitoring services, and some doctors express concern about a flood of real-time data from home systems. As for patients, the 20 percent who consume 80 percent of health care services are typically seniors, the uninsured or homeless.

“For some Medicaid patients we found out the smartphones and tablets we gave them wound up in the pawn shop, so we had to create a non-hock-able device that couldn’t be used for anything but taking and sending readings,” Dicks said.