How wireless M2M communications will help alleviate a stressed UK healthcare system
The UK’s healthcare system is already stretched and faces a considerable challenge of achieving £20bn worth of efficiency savings by 2014-15. Government-driven reforms will add to this pressure, as the structure of health services are significantly re-evaluated to improve service delivery and productivity, without adversely affecting patient outcomes. While the scenario may sound all doom and gloom, there are a raft of new technologies in the marketplace which can help the NHS to meet its new targets, improve its operations and deliver an improved level of patient care.
Specifically, the integration of wireless connections into medical devices can provide a new way of treating patients. Implemented correctly, such technologies can provide an effective and cost-efficient way to monitor and report on patient health, helping to enhance preventative care and ultimately improve overall patient outcomes.
Healthcare services around the world are already making good use of technologies that allow them to remotely monitor the health of their patients. In many cases, this means that patients can stay at home, while still remaining under the watchful eye of their healthcare provider.
As a result, health expenditures may be reduced, creating a rosier picture for home care in the future and potentially freeing up hospital beds and space in other primary care facilities.
Mobile embedded modules can also be integrated into other healthcare technology solutions to allow faster exchange of patient medical information. For example, emergency personnel could access patient records even before they left the scene of an accident, potentially identifying complicating factors like pre-existing medical conditions or prescriptions that could influence treatments. Data transmission is seamless and secure, whether this is between the health care professional and hospital, care facility or even the patient at home.
In the U.S., Positive ID uses Sierra Wireless AirPrime™ embedded wireless modules in its iglucose mobile health solution for real-time diabetes management. Iglucose™ works through wirelessly enabled glucometers, that communicate the results of a patient’s regular blood glucose readings to a cloud-based database, accessible to both patients and their healthcare providers. The service provides tracking over time as well as real-time feedback for patients and their caregivers – which means issues are quickly flagged for medical attention before they become critical.
Based on these examples, we see that wireless machine-to-machine (M2M) communications can help drive innovations in healthcare that improve quality of care and ultimately patient quality of life. But to achieve this, healthcare device manufacturers and service providers must keep in mind specific requirements for the healthcare sector when designing and integrating technology solutions.
One of the key considerations in designing wireless solutions for healthcare applications is security. Information that is wirelessly transmitted about a patient is of a personal and highly sensitive nature and therefore must be comprehensively protected. To protect the patient, security is integrated via a combination of different features, such as endpoint authentication, cellular encryption technology and Internet protocols, to ensure communication remains confidential over the network.
Another consideration is the amount of data travelling over the network. Medical applications can vary in size, from a few kilobytes for simple monitoring applications like tests for blood glucose levels, heart rates, blood pressure, and sleep apnea, to extremely large files like images from ultrasounds and MRIs.
As a result, some applications will require high-speed broadband capability and high quality of service levels enabled through 3G/4G wireless technology, while for others, 2G connections may be sufficient. Based on the regions in which they will be used, devices may also need to be compatible with a variety of network technologies to ensure patients have reliable connections.
The use of M2M technologies within medical devices can help to provide new solutions in place of currently tired medical processes. Patient care can be improved by better enabling the long-term management of chronic illnesses outside the hospital setting, relieving time pressures on healthcare providers and enabling more effective and less burdensome care for patients that may have difficulty travelling to the hospital or clinic. Looking towards healthcare models for the future, technology partners serving the health care industry need to consider where technologies like wireless M2M communication can help increase the flexibility and efficiency of the healthcare system while maintaining the high quality of care that patients need.