The future of health care today

at 09:24 AM ET, 11/10/2011

In a New York Times op-ed today, M.I.T’s Frank Moss imagines a high-tech health care future, where health care literally becomes part of our everyday life. “Inconspicuous wireless sensors worn on your body and placed in your home would continuously monitor your vital signs,” Moss speculates. “Wristbands would measure your levels of arousal, attention and anxiety.”

It’s worth pointing out that we’re actually not too far off: California-based CareMore is already pioneering what Moss suggests and has seen impressive results. The company, which caters to seniors in Medicare Advantage, monitors its patients remotely through wireless scales and blood pressure cuffs. If something seems off, the clinic knows because it’s getting continuous data from the wireless devices. The Atlantic magazine last month wrote about one CareMore patient, Ellen, to explain how this works:

One Wednesday morning last year, she got on her scale, as she does every morning. One hundred and forty-six pounds—wasn’t that a little high? Ellen felt vaguely troubled as she poured herself a bowl of oat bran.
Half an hour later, the phone rang. It was Sandra at the clinic. She too was concerned about Ellen’s weight, which had jumped three pounds since the previous day. Sandra knew this because Ellen’s scale had transmitted its reading to the clinic over a wireless connection.
Given that Ellen had a history of congestive heart failure, a three-pound weight gain in 24 hours was a potentially dangerous development, a sign of possible fluid buildup in the lungs and increasing pressure on an already stressed heart. Sandra wanted her to come in for an immediate visit: the clinic would provide a car to pick her up and bring her back home. Ellen’s treatment began that very morning and continued for two weeks until she was out of danger. Had the warning signs not been noticed and addressed so quickly, she might easily have suffered a long, painful, and expensive hospitalization.

This approach has done CareMore really well: Even with all the investments in monitoring, its costs are routinely 18 percent lower than industry averages. Hospital stays for CareMore patients are 24 percent less frequent and, when they happen, 38 percent shorter. The company could serve a good guidepost of what the future of health care should look like. The bigger hurdle is getting the rest of the system to catch up with it.

 
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