Health

Boston hospitals monitor patients from their homes

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You can obsessively track and monitor your heart rate or blood pressure, but the data doesn’t mean much until it’s in the hands of a physician.

In Massachusetts, a few hospitals are experimenting with ways to pull data from remote patient-monitoring devices, smartphones, smart wristbands, FitBit devices, and other health-tracking gadgets and store it in an electronic medical record (EMR).

Doctors can use this data to make more informed clinical decisions and track patients between office visits. The system alerts doctors when patients are at risk, prevents emergency room visits, and as a result, saves hospitals and insurers money in the long-term.

Boston’s Center for Connected Health, a division of Partners HealthCare, launched one of the first ‘connected health’ programs last month. It’s showing early signs of success, according to an article published this week in the Boston Globe.

Through the new system, patients can monitor their blood pressure, heart rate, and other key metrics from their homes and upload this data wirelessly; it’s automatically transmitted to an EMR.

This data is transmitted from a smartphone device or gadget to Partners’ database (which currently stores about 1.2 million patient vitals) and to a patient’s online medical record in minutes. Doctors can view this data at any time, and Partners’ patients can monitor their own health data through a patient portal dubbed Patient Gateway.

Partners HealthCare, a nonprofit organization that operates several hospitals in the Boston area, claims it has been committed to building out “connected health” systems like this one for “more than a decade.”

“This is a significant part of how we are working to change care delivery, putting the patient at the center of their care while maintaining a close watch on their condition when they are not in the hospital or doctor’s office,” said James Noga, the vice president and chief information officer of Partners HealthCare, in a statement.

This new approach is leveraging a number of recent digital health trends.

Affordable devices for remote patient monitoring are hitting the market — anyone can now purchase glucometers, blood pressure cuffs, smart Wi-Fi scales, pulse oximeters, and more. Doctors have found that these devices are particularly useful for patients with chronic illnesses. It can often mean the difference between a patient staying healthy at home and an expensive visit to the hospital.

Moreover, the “quantified self movement” has captivated fitness junkies, who are tracking their daily exercise, nutrition intake, and sleep patterns. Companies like Jawbone, Withings, and Nike are producing new wearable devices to capitalize on this trend. Doctors can also tap into this data to prevent disease among this healthy niche.

And in the wake of the Affordable Care Act, doctors are bowing to government pressure and are shifting paper-based medical records online.

Web-based medical records contain standard information about a patient, like drug allergies, family medical history, and previous operations, but they are increasingly storing at-home measurements.

Partners’ Health Care’s new system may soon be the norm, but the Globe points out a few potential hurdles for hospitals.

Some patients can get a bit too obsessed with monitoring their health and head to the doctor’s office when they see a minor spike in their blood pressure. The technology can also be problematic — especially when devices won’t integrate well. The upfront cost can also be a barrier for smaller hospitals and clinics.

Still, most doctors today are convinced that personal technology and at-home patient monitoring systems are valuable and have the potential to change health care.


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