Cellular modules built into end-use medical devices will be one of the primary drivers of wireless "telehealth" over the next 24 months, according to a study released July 22 by ABI Research. "Some 15 million such systems are forecast to be in use-mainly in North America-by early 2012," the company said in a news release.
North America, with its aging population, tech-oriented medical industry and the world's most expensive health care system, is central to the telehealth market and is expected to remain so over the report's forecast period, which extends through 2014.
The report focuses on embedded cellular connectivity for remote patient monitoring and ambient assisted living, the monitoring of the well-being of elderly or at-risk people.
For example, Tunstall Healthcare, of San Jose, Calif., recently launched its RTX3371 telehealth monitor, an interactive telehealth device with built-in GSM/GPRS mobile phone technology that collects vital signs wirelessly from a range of external devices such as weight scales and blood pressure cuffs.
"Wireless telehealth systems can reduce health care costs in a couple of ways," ABI Research Practice Director Sam Lucero said in a statement. "First, for patients with chronic conditions, wireless telehealth's ability to monitor and track their status allows many problems to be nipped in the bud before they require expensive hospitalization and treatment. Second, the traditional approach to home health care requires regular visits by nurses to check on patients' condition. By providing that same information automatically, wireless telehealth systems can reduce those labor and travel costs."
The statement continued, "A secondary benefit is that more people will be able to remain in the safety and comfort of their own homes as they age, at the same time reducing the burden on medical and residential institutions."
However, barriers to widespread adoption of telehealth devices remain. "Coverage for telehealth systems by private insurers and Medicare/Medicaid is patchy at best," ABI said in the statement. "The industry believes reimbursement for telehealth systems should be more comprehensive and straightforward. Proposed legislation is generating optimism," Lucero said.