Over the last few decades, life expectancy has increased dramatically. Thanks to a host of factors—chiefly advances in modern medicine and step improvements in our lifestyle and dietary habits—we are all, at least on average, set to live considerably longer lives than our predecessors. Depending on your gender, genetics, socioeconomic status, and environment, life into the eighties is now not uncommon, but there is a catch. We are aging, but not necessarily very well. Yes, we are living longer, but our improved wellbeing isn’t reducing the demands placed on the healthcare system - in fact quite the opposite.
The costs of healthcare delivery are outpacing economic growth, and as such, according to Arnaud Bernaert, a member of the World Economic Forum (WEF) executive committee, a major transformation in the way we approach the delivery of care is necessary. “The healthcare industry can’t deliver health all by itself,” says Bernaert. “Individual empowerment through access
to information, patient demand, and disruptive forces outside the traditional healthcare sphere are transforming the industry in a radical way… the smartphone will become one of the most powerful tools for access to health.”
Industry analyst, Technavio, claims the remote patient monitoring market is set to explode to 2022, on the back of not only the healthcare sector’s inability to meet demand, but equally the rise of digital healthcare services and the emergence of ‘Healthcare 3.0’, a term coined to express the increasing ability for consumers to contribute to their personalized health-related data, and play a more active role in the management of their health, rather than relying on traditional healthcare infrastructure.
To this end, developers of personal, wireless healthcare devices have emerged to fill the vacuum. The ubiquity of the smartphone coupled with the ease and convenience of Bluetooth Low Energy (Bluetooth LE) wireless connectivity, has heralded the arrival of m-health, the practice of delivering healthcare via smartphones, mobile patient monitoring devices, wearables, and their like.
Far beyond step counting, sophisticated medical grade m-health devices are now capable of much, much more.
Nordic Semiconductor has supplied Bluetooth LE wireless solutions to host of companies developing m-health solutions for the home market, shifting immediate responsibility for healthcare management from the professional to the patient. The applications are as sophisticated as they are diverse. In the past 12 months Nordic has provided the Bluetooth LE connectivity for an insulin injection monitoring device for diabetics, a wearable device for the treatment of chronic pain via nerve stimulation technology, a fingertip pulse oximeter that provides accurate non-invasive measurement of a patient’s oxygen saturation and pulse rate, as well as a wearable device that provides sufferers of motor neurone disease — or any other condition causing paralysis and/or loss of speech—the ability to communicate with family, friends, caregivers, and clinicians.
Perhaps no better example of how wireless tech is relieving the burden on professionals by divesting responsibility for healthcare from hospitals to the home was the release late last year of the ‘LifeConnect Careable’ by Tempe, AZ-based digital health solutions provider, Life365. The Nordic Bluetooth LE-powered medical monitoring device was developed for people with chronic health conditions, supported by a remote care management system for clinicians.
LifeConnect incorporates a heart rate monitor, galvanic skin resistance sensor (to record hydration and stress data), an accelerometer/gyro, as well as a thermometer. It can also wirelessly connect to other medical monitoring devices — for example cardiac or brain monitors — for gathering biometric data and other key health indicators. In addition to the device, a patient is also issued with a customized tablet pre-installed with the ‘myLife365’ companion software, allowing patients to self-monitor the collected data and access a range of applications including health surveys, education resources, medication and appointment reminders, and two-way video for communication between the patient and their care team.
“Care delivery models are changing, we are seeing more care being provided outside traditional healthcare settings, like the home,” said Kent Dicks, CEO of Life365. “The home is becoming an extension of the community health system, where organizations … can provide personalized care based on the needs of the patient, and technology can be used to provide continuous feedback to care teams for better patient outcomes.”
According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) long range modeling, most factors driving health and wellness are forecast to improve to 2040. By this time, on average, global life expectancy is predicted to increase by 4.4 years from today’s average of 72 years. If the provision of healthcare services is to keep pace with this greying population, wireless technology that enables a greater consumerization of healthcare will play an essential role.