By Jana Soeldner Danger
New medical technology is making it possible for more health conditions to be monitored from home. Patients avoid trips to a clinic or hospital while doctors receive necessary information remotely. Some recent advances include:
For sleep apnea
Not long ago when a doctor suspected someone had sleep apnea, a condition in which a person experiences temporary cessations of breathing, the patient had to go to a sleep center for a diagnosis. “But we now have the technology to do a sleep study at home,” says Dr. Laurence Smolley, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Cleveland Clinic Florida.
A cell phone-sized computer measures the patient’s air flow, respiratory efforts and oxygen levels. “The person can sleep in their own home environment instead of a sleep lab where they might not feel comfortable,” Smolley says.
Matters of the heart
Both pacemakers and defibrillators can be tracked remotely. A wireless device implanted into the patient’s chest sends messages to a monitor next to the bed. “It detects any abnormal rhythm or malfunction and communicates it over the Internet to a monitoring center,” says Dr. David Kenigsberg, medical director of electrophysiology services at Westside Regional Medical Center. “The center will contact the physician or the patient. We can monitor every day, not just during clinic visits.”
Asthmatics can measure the functional capacity of their lungs at home using a peak flow monitor. “They can do it three or four times a day so we know if they have fluctuations,” says Dr. Dana Wallace of the Florida Center for Allergy and Asthma Care. “Sometimes when someone has trouble breathing or shortness of breath, it’s from anxiety rather than asthma. This gives them more control and helps evaluate the problem.”
Monitoring elderly falls, diet
Devices at home can help caretakers or children with elderly parents. One is a personal response system that alerts a monitoring center if the patient falls. “A lot of them have a decelerator that recognizes the speed at which the person is going to the ground to help determine if it’s a fall,” says Joan Punch-Fleming, director of Home Health at Holy Cross Hospital.
Another tool: a motion detector that can be monitored remotely. “You can tell, for example, if your parent has gone to the kitchen to eat or not,” Punch-Fleming says.
For an Alzheimer’s patient who wanders, there’s a pressure-sensitive doormat. “If the patient steps on it,” she says, “it sets off an alarm.”
But, Punch-Fleming cautions, “Technology doesn’t replace human judgment. It’s there to support it.”