Friday, March 19, 2010

Five Innovative Telemedicine Solutions

This is a guest post by Greg Bartlett. If you're interested in submitting a guest post, please contact me.

Regardless of advances in communications and GPS tracking technology, we’re still a long way off from seeing widespread practical implementation of telemedicine. Yet for some patients in certain areas of the globe, remote monitoring is the only viable solution. For those with unique problems, doctors and tech experts are crafting some very unique solutions.

Doctors and health professionals serving the Navajo Nation have launched an unprecedented telemedicine solution that involves smartphones, GPS tracking, and even weather balloons. For those on the reservation, much of which is undeveloped wilderness, access to advanced medical services is limited. Here’s how the solution works: patients are given devices which monitor glucose levels, blood pressure, and other indicators. The monitors the periodically ping receivers in industrial-grade weather balloons that float high above the reservation. Each day, the data-heavy receiver packages are parachuted down to health professionals, who employ GPS tracking devices to recover them. For a huge patient area with no cell towers or satellite receivers, sometimes a mix of old and new tech does the job.

Perhaps a more confined—if more extreme—environment for health monitoring is Mt. Everest. This year, the Everest Extreme Expedition will be using a TIMA-developed telemedicine solution which will allow a team of medical professionals scattered across the globe to monitor and comment on the health of each expedition member. GPS tracking, as in previous years, will also be used to ensure no member becomes lost. The same satellite-based communications technology has been used elsewhere, but perhaps never in a more challenging application.

Telemedicine often makes the patient’s day easier, but what if the same technology was used to reach out to doctors? The MassGeneral Hospital in Boston has launched a new program for their Pediatric Intensive Care Unit which allows in-hospital patients to interact with physicians still at home. Using standard video communications, doctors can remain on call while at home, reviewing patients and instructing nurses whenever needed. This allows a greater number of doctors—and crucial expertise—to be available to patients at any one time.

In perhaps less of an innovation and more of a market outreach, both Cisco and Verizon have launched new telemedicine services which are fully integrated into their existing cellular networks. The move comes as tech companies begin to recognize the growing acceptance of telemedicine within the medical community.
And, as every robo-apocalypse film should have warned us, the CareBots are here. Georgia-based Gecko Systems has developed a line of personal care robots outfitted with blood pressure monitors and other miscellaneous medical hardware. The company hopes these robots will overcome the primary limitation of telemedicine: the lack of physical interaction. Talks are in the air of marketing this in Japan, where dubious robot slaves are a little more popular.

Greg Batlett runs  He specializes in writing about health and technology, including GPS and insurance, and has earned two master’s degrees.

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