Remote health monitoring for better care, lower costs
The economic and social burden of healthcare is weighing heavily on governments, healthcare providers and citizens, particularly as Europeans age. However e-health tools – such as mobile monitoring applications for patients and their care providers – are enabling care services to be redesigned to be more flexible and effective.
The HEALTHSERVICE 24 (HS24) project – with funding from the European Commission’s eTEN programme – provides one solution to the challenges ahead with an innovative mobile healthcare system.
“Our concept targets non-critical patients who use a lot of hospital resources, but because they are non-critical could be easily monitored from home,” explains project coordinator Jennie Weingartner of Ericsson Germany in Düsseldorf. “HS24 gives them more freedom, while fulfilling one of Europe’s e-health priorities to provide restructured, citizen-centred health systems.”
The system allows healthcare professionals to follow-up patients remotely, while the patients are free to continue their daily activities. It also enables these patients to monitor their own physical condition and obtain advice and information.
The economic potential of mobile health services is high as the number of chronically ill patients in Europe over the next decade is estimated to rise to more than 100 million. If just one out of 10 of these patients uses a mobile health service, it can result in substantial economic savings, Weingartner says. “We expect mobile health services to play a fundamental role in transforming today’s health model, allowing access to high quality treatment and follow-up, anytime from anywhere” she adds.
For example, in the UK the yearly costs for a person participating in a SEDS (Supervised Exercise, Diet and Stress management) programme is around 41,000 euros for conventional treatment. By contrast, the annual cost for mobile patient management is just 15,000 euros.
The HS24 platform is based on advanced concepts and technologies such as Body Area Networks (BAN), 2.5/3G wireless broadband communications (GPRS/UMTS) and wearable medical devices. Users are equipped with sensors interconnected under a BAN, and managed by a PDA or mobile telephone. The collected data is transmitted continuously via a wireless UMTS or GPRS service to a medical centre or directly to medical professionals.
Content-management functions enable immediate analysis of individual body data and personalised patient feedback in real time using alarms and reminders. The system monitors vital signs such as ECG, EMG (electromyography), oxygen saturation, respiration, activity and temperature.
“Patients can be remotely assessed, diagnosed and treated,” says Weingartner. “In the case of rapidly deteriorating medical conditions, the data centre can send an SMS alarm or provide the patient with first-level medical support.”
The benefits offered by such mobile systems can be realised across the healthcare profession. Patients benefit from better accessibility; while healthcare professionals can be more efficient and accurate in following up patient histories with easily available patient data. Families can reduce the time lost in visits to the hospital, which in turn reduces the number of occupied beds that require monitoring, making room for more critical patients.
Insurance companies and national governments also stand to benefit from reduced hospitalisation time for non-critical patients. Healthcare payers gain through reduced patient treatment costs, better resource management and significant health-economic improvements.
Project trials ran from September 2005 to July 2006, and involved patients with varying health conditions at three different sites. The goal was to test the system in real-life scenarios to assess the feasibility of integrating HS24 into the clinical process and testing market viability.
“Our trials showed that a mobile health monitoring system can easily co-exist with other forms of service delivery by supplementing them or replacing previous practices,” says Weingartner. “Patients and medical practitioners are very enthusiastic about the system.”
The monitoring of high risk pregnancies by one project partner, Medisch Spectrum Twente in the Netherlands, showed that the potential financial benefits can be very high, and that integrating mobile patient monitoring is feasible at low cost.
“Professionals have concluded that the system could easily be applied to their current work practices,” Weingartner adds. “We learned a very important lesson. The process of incorporating a mobile monitoring solution is more of a socio-technical nature. Technology alone is not enough.”
Ericsson has developed a certified commercial product based on the HS24 concept. Today, Weingartner says Ericsson Mobile Health is ready for global rollout. “The HS24 research system will be further developed by the University of Twente and if new applications prove successful in pilots, it may be possible to integrate them into the commercial version,” she concludes.