10 Life-Saving Remote Health Monitoring Technologies that are Emerging

Remote health monitoring (RHM), more commonly referred to as remote patient monitoring (RPM), involves the use of mobile devices to take regular medical readings on an individual and transfer it wirelessly to a medical professional or another device. It is not exactly a new phenomenon. RPM has been around for more than five years though technological growth has not been robust. It is only in the last 2 to 3 years that we are seeing new technologies emerge in remote health monitoring, often with life-saving results.

The remote patient monitoring sector is expected to grow to at least $1 billion by 2020. The number of remote health monitoring devices in the market will multiply. These devices will be smarter, more interconnected and able to undertake more and more functions.

Currently, RPM focuses mostly on elderly and chronically ill patients such as those with diabetes or cardiac disease, hence the term ‘patient’ monitoring. In the future, the term ‘health’ monitoring will be more relevant. More people, sick or not, will find remote health monitoring to be an essential aspect of staying healthy.

Below, we look at some of the notable tech developments in remote health monitoring.

1. RHM Wearables

Apple released its second generation Smartwatch in mid-September 2016. Fitbit released Charge 2 to a great number of positive reviews. Samsung Gear S3 is planned for release anytime in October if the calamitous events surrounding the Note 7 do not force a delay.

These are just three of dozens of wearables available in the market. The competition is heating up and the technology has gotten better. This is good news for the RHM (remote health monitoring) industry, where wearables offer a unique opportunity to track people’s health and fitness.

Wearables, especially smartwatches and fitness bands, are already doing a sizable amount of health monitoring. For example, a majority of wrist-worn wearables come with heart rate monitors. Heart rate is an essential metric when it comes to monitoring chronically ill and vulnerable individuals.

In the future, you might see wearables get packed with more sensors to monitor other aspects of your health. They could measure temperature, blood sugar, breathing, ECG activity, brain activity and so on. These wearables will then be able to transmit data to a medical professional or central device (like a smartphone) in real time or at a preferred instance.

While there exists some health wearables today that can do this, we will see rapid advancement in the coming years.

2. AI in Remote Health Monitoring Sector

Talk about any field today and you will find artificial intelligence playing a huge role in its growth and advancement. Whether it is education, transport or even the Government, you will find AI there. In health, AI is bound to play a crucial role in improving the reliability, scope and efficiency of remote health monitoring.

One area where it will come in handy is the handling of gathered data by medical professionals. As RHM gets more popular, there will be more and more data sent to health professionals. AI programs could help ease the work of sifting through these metrics and making decisions based on them.

For example, an AI program could highlight a worrisome issue by studying an individual’s data and comparing it to past trends and its own database of medical knowledge. While it could have taken a doctor maybe days to get to a particular set of metrics, an AI ensures speedy diagnosis and treatment.

Even if the data is not sent to a doctor but instead uploaded to the cloud or a device, AI could parse through it and alert the user of an issue that he or she needs to get checked on. The program itself could suggest corrective actions such as more exercise or more water for non-serious issues.

3. Advanced Sensors

Remote health monitoring depends entirely on advanced sensors. They are the soldiers on the ground, regularly or continuously monitoring the body and transmitting data back to their masters. The technological advancement of sensors goes hand in hand with the advancement of remote health monitoring.

The major issues facing sensors today are accuracy, size and cost. Experts have raised concerns on the accuracy of heart rate monitors imbedded in wrist-worn wearables. Considering just how important the heart rate metric is, you can see why sensor reliability is crucial. This is the main reason Apple scrapped plans to add a host of sensors to its first Apple Watch.

The ability to implant sensors is one of the most promising development areas. Implanted sensors can take more accurate readings and can measure things external sensors cannot. Today, only a few sensors can be implanted but not without some risk.

Most sensors cannot be put inside the body because they are bulky. They would also need a long-term (10 years at a minimum) power supply and be able to submit data wirelessly. This is not to mention the importance of compatibility with human tissue.

In a few years however, we could enjoy implanted sensors that accurately detect things like blood oxygen, the early presence of a disease such as cancer, stress levels, healing rate and so on.

4. Combining Monitoring and Drug Delivery

As implanted sensors get better, they could play another important role in addition to monitoring; drug delivery. In the future, you might have an implanted sensor that not only monitors your health condition but also delivers preloaded treatment drugs as necessary.

Instead of using tubes and wires, which pose the risk of infection, experts have come up with a prototype nanowire design.

Strictly, this is not a sensor; it just does the delivery. A doctor or the patient can activate it to deliver a measured dose to a specific region of the body. This will be especially advantageous for deep bone infections, spinal cord injuries and cancerous tissue.

Instead of undergoing painful, risky and expensive treatment methods like chemotherapy, the nanowire can deliver a highly targeted dose without causing harm to surrounding tissue.

In coming years, we could see implanted sensors that combine the two functions of monitoring and drug delivery. They could even be set to automatically deliver a dosage whenever it detects certain conditions such as low heart rate or a fever.

5. Better Interconnectivity with 5G

5G – the fifth generation mobile network – comes with a load of improvements over the current 4G network. Its benefits include higher speeds even on multiple connections (at least 1Gbps), lower delays, better power efficiency on devices and wider coverage.

Since remote health monitoring is based on robust connectivity, the rollout of 5G will have plenty of benefits. Data transmission will become more efficient and reliable. Sensors – whether implanted or on wearables – can be easily interconnected to other devices and systems.

IOT – what is known as the Internet of Things – will spread to remote health monitoring. I can imagine a situation when you are driving and a sensor finds your blood sugar slipping. It immediately communicates to the car telling it to come to a stop. This is just a tip of the iceberg about what can be achieved with stronger interconnectivity.

6. Smartphone-Based Health Monitoring

A lot of remote health monitoring today is done using wearables. They can be wrist-based, strapped around the chest or worn on any other part of the body. But there is one thing more common than wearables and it could offer a big boost to the RHM industry.

The culprit is the humble mobile phone. Integrating remote health monitoring into smartphones could improve access and lower the cost of health monitoring.

In one case, researchers developed sensors that can be imbedded within a phone’s display. Using a smartphone, users can measure blood sugar, take temperature among other things. These sensors can connect with other apps to share this health information.

For those with a tight budget, you may not have to buy an extra device to monitor your health. The smartphone in your pocket might just be enough.

7. Integrated Home Sensors for the Elderly

For the elderly, health monitoring is not enough. Sensors must also be able to detect whether they are walking normally, whether their voice is normal and if they have fallen.

Body-worn sensors may not be adequate in monitoring the overall health and status of a vulnerable elderly. Additional sensors and cameras could be installed on walls and along hallways for all-round monitoring.

If she falls, sensors can pick it up immediately and alert medical professionals or family members. If no activity is detected for an extended amount of time, sensors could alert emergency contacts to check in.

The advantage of integrated sensors is that they allow the elderly to remain independent and stay at home for longer.

8. Telemedicine Robots

‘’Hello, time for your appointment’’.

Only that you are not in a hospital waiting room. You are sitting on your couch at home and a screened robot stands before you. On the screen, your doctor appears smiling, ready to get an update on your health.

Telemedicine robots are not a new thing. There is already an FDA approved line of such robots produced by InTouch Health and iRobot. But these devices have mostly been used in a hospital setting in areas like wards and surgery rooms.

But soon, there will be more and more telemedicine robots designed for homecare. Elderly and chronically ill patients who might have a hard time travelling to a hospital will greatly benefit from this.

When the doctor appears on the screen, she already has all your health information from sensors on or in your body. She can remotely deliver a drug to your system (see point 4 above), recalibrate your sensors or simply suggest a few things you can do to stay healthy.

9. RHM Cloud Computing

The future of RHM is filled with endless terabytes of data. You can imagine the amounts of data a single hospital will have to deal with from all its patients.

Cloud computing will come in handy in the storage, analysis and use of this data. This will help reduce the hardware and technical load on the hospital.

10. RHM Pregnancy monitors

Expecting mothers face a long list of health risks to them and the developing fetus. This is why regular appointments with the gynecologist are essential. But safety can be improved drastically by integrating round-the-clock health monitoring.

The easiest way to do this is via sensor-packed wearables. Sensors could monitor things like the child’s and mother’s heart rates, blood oxygen level, temperature and other health metrics. Constant remote monitoring will prove helpful for vulnerable pregnant women with special conditions that put them at greater risk.

In developing countries, pregnancy monitors could be used to monitor the health of women in remote areas where hospital access is almost impossible in their condition. This will improve maternal and child survival rate during and after delivery.

Challenges Facing Remote Health Monitoring

The future of remote health monitoring is promising but it is not without its challenges. Like any other technology, there are specific obstacles that must be overcome. One such challenge for RHM is reliability. Currently, most sensors, especially those in smartphones and wearables, are not a 100% accurate in their collection of health data.

Wrong data, even if it is off by a few points, could have dreadful consequences. Imagine a doctor overdosing a patient on a drug based on inaccurate data? Scary. Before remote health monitoring can be used in serious health applications, there are a lot of improvements to be made.

The second major challenge is privacy. With all the interconnectedness and personal health information being transmitted constantly, privacy suddenly becomes a touchy issue. Someone with ill intentions could get ahold of your data and use it maliciously. Or someone could hack your sensors and mess with them. This is an extremely important issue that could make or break the remote health monitoring sector.

Finally, there is the matter of price. To be of maximum benefit, these new technologies need to be affordable to the masses and especially vulnerable populations. Fortunately, the natural trend for new technologies is to become cheaper as adoption goes up.

Which remote health monitoring technology do you think will make the biggest impact? Leave your comments below and feel free to mention any notable technology we may have left out.
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