How the Switch to Telehealth Impacts Medical Device Design
One of the latest and biggest shifts in healthcare has been toward virtual health and remote health networks. This big change in the larger healthcare picture has significant impact on the wider industry and all those connected to it — including medical device companies.
If treating patients has gone from “come on in” to “stay at home”, it means health products have to make this shift as well.
Why is telehealth important?
Product development companies watch trends to make sure that their designs are keeping up with consumer demand. This year, the trend to watch out for is telehealth. Medical device manufacturers should take advantage of these consumer trends and combine them with the current shift toward remote patient care.
There was a rising interest in telehealth years before Covid-19 swept the globe. In 2020, however, remote healthcare has transformed from an interesting possibility with loads of potential to an absolute necessity.
People today are taking their health into their own hands with consumer technology that can track your steps, heart rate, and even sleep. The only problem is that medical device technology is only just starting to catch up.
We are living in a time of changing healthcare infrastructure and care delivery. Remote patient monitoring (RPM) includes telehealth, telemedicine, and e-health, and has become possible because of technology miniaturization, cloud services, and better security and data management.
Remote healthcare is here to stay in some form, even when it is no longer a necessity. Because there are simply so many reasons why telehealth is beneficial.
Remote healthcare has massive benefits to patients.
Accessibility and Inclusivity
For the aging population, people with visual or hearing impairments, people who live in rural regions, or people who have limited mobility, remote healthcare services can cater to their specific needs.
Additionally, remote health allows people to stay in the comfort of their homes. This can reduce travel costs for people whose nearest medical facility is miles away. It also means faster access to healthcare services, and it can be more private than showing up in person to appointments.
Faster Access to Healthcare Services
More scheduling flexibility allows for short and immediate visits because there isn’t as much time in between appointments, and rescheduling is easier because patients don’t have to travel. This leads to a more preventative approach because patients can receive more frequent check-up appointments. Now data can be shared remotely between experts, which saves time and money for both practitioners and patients alike.
Companies like MedVector have developed a product that allows patients to remotely access advanced medicine from other regions than where they live. Remote technology also allows clinical trials to have a larger sample group since the barrier of physical distance is removed.
More Holistic Care
People want to take their health (mental and physical) into their own hands. Remote patient monitoring gives patients more influence on their own well-being through ownership of their own health data.
Better for Non-Critical, At-Risk Patients
Less time at the doctor’s office or in the hospital means lower risk of exposure. However, non-critical at-risk patients, such as those with diabetes or transplants, need frequent and regular appointments. They may not need or want to go into a medical facility very frequently, but they still need constant monitoring.
Remote care also has substantial benefits for healthcare providers.
Alerts for Healthcare Providers
RPM means providers can manage patient health through the use of tracking devices. These devices can alert caregivers on things like glucose levels for those with diabetes, or falls for people with limited mobility. This all means better doctor-patient communication.
Collection of Behavioral and Biometric Data
Collecting and using data from smart technology helps healthcare practitioners understand the source of treatment problems. This helps patients with their care by allowing them to take a look at trackable factors that could contribute to their overall health.
Continuous or Frequent Monitoring
Healthcare providers can frequently check in on patients who take medication regularly to ensure successful treatment using non-invasive monitoring technology, such as biosensors or wearable devices.
For example, Medtronic has an ingestible “SmartPill” that allows healthcare providers to monitor gastro-intestinal (GI) motility. This type of technology allows practitioners to monitor patient health, and potentially diagnose motility disorders.
But how do you design products for the age of remote health?
Many medical device developers are already jumping on this rising telehealth trend. Remote health devices include smartphones with health or monitoring software, wearable devices that record physiological changes, biosensors, web software where patients or practitioners transmit health information remotely, or a combination of any number of these techniques.
Remote health has traditionally been used to monitor everything from blood pressure and continuous glucose monitors to electrocardiography (ECG) and heart rate devices for athletes. Remote patient monitoring devices are also used in medical alert systems, maternity care monitoring, pediatric at-home monitoring, and even smart scales, medication monitoring, and wearables.
Remote Medical Device Design Principals
User-Centered Design – Design your products the same way consumer products are designed —people first.
Independence – Ensure that people can become self-reliant on their technology. Using techniques such as achievements, notifications, and integrations with other apps help medical technology feel familiar and get people to use them regularly.
Wearables – Everyone is becoming familiar with wearables that track biometric data (from steps to sleep).
Data Security – Consider security and cloud computing. Where will your user’s data be stored? What security measures need to be in place? Extra development may be needed to ensure data is secure and compliant.
Most importantly, medical devices must be HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) Compliant. This is a standard for patient data protection, and means that devices must ensure physical, network, and data security where patient data is stored and used.
Connection Between Software and Hardware – Consider the user workflow, digital information being shared, nature of security and privacy, and use environment.
The security, software, and hardware requirements you produce through design controls determines the level of complexity of your product. Will it be cloud based or localized? How many devices are needed in the system?Telehealth has become a necessity this past year, and it might be here to stay because of benefits to patient health. Those benefits lead to a better quality of life for many. Although it is not a replacement for in-person care, the rise of new devices and technology that supports remote healthcare is beneficial for patients and practitioners alike.