America leads the world in telemedicine. It has to.

At 3,800,000 square miles, the United States is big enough to cover half the moon’s surface.

America’s sprawling geography, temperate climate and mild topography have made it possible for the population to spread into all sorts of plains, nooks and crannies rather than cluster in a few habitable pockets. That distribution – a boon to agricultural, industrial, and cultural diversity – has presented a peculiar challenge to healthcare that only has been exacerbated by the current transition from a fee-based to value-based model: How do we deliver high quality care to more people in more places, and do it at lower cost?

Moreover, today the industry is in the midst of a merger boom. More M&A deals worth more than a billion dollars were announced in 2017 than in any previous year, according to recent report from Kaufman Hall. As smaller healthcare systems are acquired by larger ones, many observers fear that healthcare “deserts” may be forming in more secluded parts of the country where only 10 percent of the nation’s doctors currently practice. Worse still, these are the zip codes more closely correlated with higher rates of obesity, alcohol abuse and tobacco use – people more likely to die of preventable maladies that manifest in stroke, cancer and heart disease.

Just like the telegraph and the transcontinental railroad “solved” America’s geography challenge generations ago, telemedicine is seeking to solve the healthcare challenge now. According to the just released Philips Future Health Index, rates of adoption of “remote patient monitoring” services are much higher in the United States than in other Western countries with comparably sophisticated healthcare systems. Remote patient monitoring or RPM is an emerging technology made up of health care equipment and applications which enables monitoring of patients at home and outside of typical clinical settings like outpatient facilities.

These solutions can provide real-time alerts ranging from blood pressure and blood glucose readings to sleep cycle data. They can let providers know when patients are in stable or critical conditions and improve the management of chronic diseases by measuring critical risk indicators such as glucose.

Additionally, and perhaps as importantly, they’ve been shown to reduce costs for both patients and providers.

A 2015 study observed 200 heart failure patients with defibrillators and analyzed the benefits of remote monitoring over the course of 16 months. The results showed reduced health costs as the monitoring, while remote, is also real-time, meaning physicians are able to keep a closer eye on the health data and spot potential issues earlier on. All this with many miles between doctor and patient.

One of the most admirable pioneers of such technology is the Veterans Administration, powered by progressive initiatives like “Chose Home” and “Anywhere to Anywhere Health Care,” which have made the VA the largest telehealth program in the country. Last year, seven hundred thousand Veterans received telehealth services, including remote monitoring, through the VA. This includes patients in urban Chicago and rural Wyoming. The VA has 300 providers connected through 67 hospitals and clinics covering 50 clinical specialties, from dermatology to intensive care.

And as RPM usage grows, it will continue to merge with other monitoring markets – such as fitness tracking watches and other wearables – creating even more efficient tools. Additionally, patients using remote monitoring are more likely to make healthier decisions as they become increasingly aware of personal impact via their data output.

This is music to the ears of those struggling to improve health outcomes while reducing costs. For providers, it can also mean saving thousands that would have been incurred in the building and maintenance of outpatient facilities. Once again, the very vastness of this continent is playing a role in technical innovation that will serve the entire world.

Joe Robinson, is senior vice president, Philips North America, Health Systems Solutions
Mr. Robinson is responsible for the Health Systems Solutions organization, which includes Government VA/DoD & Military Contracts, Healthcare Informatics, Patient Care & Monitoring Solutions, Hospital to Home, Healthcare Transformation Services, Managed Equipment Services, Digital Health Platform development and Government Affairs at Philips Healthcare.

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