Remote health monitoring for better care and lower costs

Düsseldorf 18 September 2006The economic and social burden of health care is weighing heavily on governments, health care 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 mobility of chronically ill people, or those living with a condition that needs regular monitoring, is often limited. Their lives are planned around hospital visits, check ups and overnight stays. Many feel insecure when they are away from their health care providers and worry about risks to their health.

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The HEALTHSERVICE 24 (HS24) project - with funding from the European Commission-s eTEN programme - provides one solution to the challenges ahead. The project partners have developed an innovative mobile health care system that supports patients' and health professionals' mobility, increases patients' quality of life and reduces health care costs.

"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", explained project co-ordinator 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 health care 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 number of chronically ill patients in Europe over the next decade is estimated to rise to more than 100 million. Jennie Weingartner said the economic potential of mobile health services is high. If just one out of 10 of these patients uses a mobile health service, it can result in substantial economic savings. "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 added.

For example, in the United Kingdom the yearly costs for a person participating in a Supervised Exercise, Diet and Stress management (SEDS) programme is around 41.000 euro for conventional treatment. By contrast, the annual cost for mobile patient management is just 15.000 euro.

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, electromyography (EMG), oxygen saturation, respiration, activity and temperature. "Patients can be remotely assessed, diagnosed and treated", stated Jennie 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 health care profession. Patients benefit from better accessibility; while health care 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. Health care 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", stated Jennie 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. At another site, the Hospital Clínic Provincial de Barcelona, Spain, HS24 was used to support remote assistance during home-visits to elderly and chronically ill patients suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

A further partner, LITO Polyclinic in Cyprus, tested two groups of cardiac patients, those with an acute episode and those in a suspected acute episode. This trial revealed shortcomings in the "wearability" of the system and some problems with connectivity, which were addressed in subsequent development. "Professionals have concluded that the system could easily be applied to their current work practices", Jennie Weingartner added. "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, Jennie Weingartner said 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 concluded.

For more information you can contact Jennie Weingartner, Ericsson GmbH, Advice Business Consulting, Fritz-Vomfelde St. 26, D-40547 Düsseldorf, Germany, Tel: +49-211 534 2234, or visit the HEALTHSERVICE 24 project web site.

This article has been reprinted from the IST Results web site.


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