Everyone acknowledges the leap telemedicine made during the pandemic. Physicians believe there’s a larger leap still ahead.
Dr. Sam Weiner, vice president and chief medical officer of Virtua Medical Group, said that, as physician groups such as his emphasize increasing access to care in the communities they serve, the improvement of telemedicine is being made a focal point.
Devices that allow for remote patient monitoring, including blood pressure, blood sugar and oxygen level gauges, have a part to play in that, particularly for patients just released from the hospital setting.
“We find that, historically, patients would come out of the hospital and there would be a gap between the time they were discharged and when they’d come in to see their primary care doctor,” he said. “Remote monitoring allows us to keep tabs on those vulnerable patients during that time … so we can catch any exacerbation of problems before it would necessitate a repeat hospitalization.”
Dr. Weiner expects that to expand for patients who perhaps haven’t been hospitalized yet, but could be trending in that direction and require heightened observation.
Dr. Stephen Brunnquell, president of the Englewood Health Physician Network, said physicians were doing remote monitoring on a very low-tech basis for many years.
“We’d have patients drop off readings from a blood pressure cuff at the office or even mail them,” he said. “Now, there’s this wave of technology that’s helping to manage conditions such as diabetes or chronic lung diseases all remotely. It’s an exciting advance in care.”
Even outside of telemedicine appointments, physician group leaders anticipate that devices entering the market today could lead to better outcomes. Brunnquell’s example was smart pill dispensers that can send text alerts to a son or daughter saying pills are still in their elderly parent’s pill box.
“On the one hand, it sounds like this sort of technology that knows where I’m going, what I’m buying or eating, and I think that’s a little spooky for a lot of us,” he said. “But this could really help people who, for instance, might want to stay in their own homes longer instead of long-term care facilities. … Because getting patients to take medicine on a regular basis is a huge problem.”
Consumer remote monitoring devices present a number of new opportunities for the practice of medicine.
“You could go into your local Target and Best Buy and pick up your own Bluetooth-enabled stethoscope or even perhaps an otoscope, which allows a doctor to look into your ears,” Weiner said. “Having those at home would open up the possibilities for telemedicine.”
The upshot is this: Doctors could be virtually listening to hearts or lungs or looking into mouths or ears to diagnose strep throat or an ear infection.
“These devices allow patients to interact with their physician in a much more meaningful way virtually,” Dr. Weiner said. “That’s something we see only growing over the coming years.”