Delivering care to rural areas, where people have limited access to hospitals, is an important priority in the U.S. While the government is making efforts in this direction by expanding rural broadband coverage, health IT professionals are also looking to wireless medical devices to reach remote patients with certain diseases.
Wireless medical devices use communication technology, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, to support healthcare delivery. In addition to monitoring a patient's vitals and transferring patient data to clinical portal, wireless options are being used for specialty care, such as the application of digital stethoscope technology in cardiology and pulmonology.
A wireless digital stethoscope, which was on display at the 2018 Connected Health Conference, is able to monitor heart and lung health by detecting murmurs and sending the recorded sounds to clinicians in real time. For patients in rural areas who have difficulty meeting with a cardiologist or pulmonologist, they can go to a local healthcare center and use the wireless stethoscope with the help of providers there. The local provider would hold the stethoscope up to the patient's chest and connect the device to a mobile phone or a tablet installed with a clinical dashboard, from which the patient's health data and the recorded sound can be accessed by the specialists remotely.
"We empower the nurses by giving them peripherals, and one of those peripherals is the digital stethoscope. Likewise, an otoscope or a scale, or a blood pressure cuff ... all of those smart devices are connected to software that can then stream [collected data] over the internet to the physician, where the physician just needs to sit down at the computer, put headphones on, visualize and listen to the data that's being transmitted," said Evan Carlson, the commercial executive at Eko Devices, a digital stethoscope vendor that exhibited at the conference.
Machine learning and Eko's decision-support algorithms applied in the digital stethoscope technology also enable the analysis of patient data to let the doctor know if there is a murmur detected, and furthermore what kind of murmur it is. It helps providers decrease readmissions by detecting problems earlier and preventing the patient's symptoms from worsening. Also, by using machine learning for data comparison, the device is able to triage pathological murmurs from nonpathological ones, so patients can save costs from needless echocardiograms.
Like most telehealth technologies, it also enables providers to access patient data on a dashboard, which helps with remote patient engagement.