When President Obama signed the economic stimulus package into law this past February, allotting $19 billion to accelerate the nationwide adoption of electronic health records, he welcomed a new era in American healthcare: the age of connectivity.
From a medical perspective, electronic connectivity concerns a physician’s ability to manage his or her patients’ medical care more effectively and more efficiently, through remote monitoring and electronic record keeping. For patients, the advantages of connectivity lie in improved communication with their doctors, expanded options for home treatment and reliable access to information about their medical histories.
These benefits carry over to the administrative side of healthcare as well, as electronic health records (EHRs) have the potential to reduce medical errors and reduce costs. If 90 percent of physicians and hospitals adopt EHRs and other forms of health information technology, the average annual savings for the healthcare industry could surpass $77 billion, according to a 2005 study by the RAND Corporation.
By encouraging all U.S. hospitals and physician practices to implement EHRs, the Obama administration hopes to expand connectivity—and its benefits—throughout the American healthcare system.
Beginning in 2011, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will offer temporary incentive payments to reward the use of EHRs by physicians and hospitals participating in Medicare. Late adopters will receive smaller payouts, and Medicare providers that fail to implement an EHR system by 2015 will face financial penalties that will escalate every year they continue to use paper records.
This policy sends a clear message: The time for connectivity has arrived. The global market for telemedicine is expected to surpass $18 billion by 2015, according to a 2009 report by Global Industry Analysts.
In the U.S. and the EU, which currently dominate the market, the introduction of medical devices that communicate via wireless telemetry has given doctors the opportunity to monitor their patients’ devices and their medical conditions more closely, while also reducing the need for in-office visits, saving time and cutting costs.
It is now possible for remotely transmitted data to go directly into a patient’s EHR, simplifying record keeping from a physician’s perspective, potentially enhancing the opportunity for the ability of the patient’s doctors to access important information, and lessening the likelihood that important medical information might be misplaced. This capacity for seamless, secure data transfer from implantable devices opens opportunities for automated follow-up and daily device safety checks without requiring patients to leave their homes.
Remote monitoring has the potential to decrease patient hospitalizations as well. According to a Jan. 21 report by the New England Healthcare Institute, remote physiological monitoring has the potential to reduce hospital readmissions by 60 percent compared to patients who receive standard care. For patients involved in disease management programs with remote monitoring, the reduction in readmissions could reach 50 percent.
The study estimates that home monitoring could prevent 460,000 to 627,000 heart failure-related hospital readmissions on a yearly basis. This reduction makes remote monitoring an enticing option for cardiologists who want to make their offices more efficient without compromising patient care.
Electronic connectivity strengthens the connections between patients and physicians and has the potential to lower the costs and risks of healthcare. President Obama’s call to computerize health records positions connectivity at the center of what it means to be modern in medicine, but remote monitoring and electronic record keeping aren’t only cutting edge. For healthcare providers looking to provide their patients with the best possible care, these tools make the best clinical sense, too.