The evolution of medical devices, both mobile and fixed, is advancing at a surprising rate.Combining medicine with the latest technology has had excellent results when monitoring patients’ vital statistics, administering medicine and providing emergency medical attention.
This trend is even more pronounced in developed countries, where high-tech applications make both direct supervision and long-distance rehabilitation possible; whether inthe hospital or at the patient’s home. But, as is often true, it is an area in which Latin America has only recently started to take its first steps.
“In Latin America, we are still in the first stage of this process; we call it, the prevention stage,” stated Carlos Romero, Gemalto Products Marketing Manager. Many people are beginning to use applications for things such as monitoring their heart rate and blood pressure whilst exercising. These devices work with a cell phone or wristband, relaying information to the network and keeping constant track of their statistics. Generally this is as far as it goes and information is not normally passed onto doctors or hospitals.”
According to Romero, there is still a lot to be done if they want to get to the next two stages, namely remote monitoring and treatment administration. Remote monitoring is where doctors monitor ailments such as diabetes and hypertension from a distance. The third stage involves administering a treatment, based on the patient’s specific condition and the behavior of the illness. It can even involve rehabilitation.
“Private hospitals, as well as some public ones, are starting to consider using some of these devices in the treatment of some of the more common illnesses, such as diabetes and hypertension. But there’s still a lot to be done,” said Romero.
The improvement of mobile networks is proving crucial to this development. Operators, acting on new regulations put in place by local governments, are installing networks with higher bandwidths (4G). This will help significantly when developing these medical solutions. The development of Wi-Fi networks will also prove critical. Currently, over 80% of the population of Latin America lives in urban areas with good mobile service coverage. This too is reallyhelping facilitate the development of these solutions.
“Steps are being made to enable medical institutions, over the next five years, to launch programs making devices tracking illnesses that require immediate attention widely available,” added Romero.
According to a recent study carried out by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, there are currently over 97,000 healthcare and medical apps available for download from app stores.
Alfonso Caraveo, Channel Manager at Motorola Solutions Mexico, is of the opinion that the healthcare sector is becoming more receptive to adopting mobile solutions, although “it is still not at the same stage as the retail industry or the manufacturing industry. However, as is the case with all vertical markets, information and mobile technology is becoming widely accepted, above all when looking to give patients a better quality of service and improved overall experience”.
Some technologies are already considered as standard within the healthcare sector, explained Caraveo. For example, the use of bar codes to identify samples and medicines, as well as the use ofRFID technology. According to Caraveo, the key to progress lies in embracing mobile technology; making advances such as the implementation of electronic medicalfiles possible.
In fact, the use of electronic medical files is becoming widely accepted in several Latin American countries. For example, the Health Secretary for Mexico City is to start using them as of September 2014. According to Mexico City’s official governmental publication, the healthcare system will be able to use tools and/or information technologies that facilitate the effective management of financial, clinical and operative aspects.Colombia has also put in place a plan to implement the use of electronic clinical files, as well as using telemedicine to better cover the healthcare services offered within this country.
While there are efforts being made by governmental institutions, Caraveoreports that the greatest advances are being seen by the private institutions. “Evidently, for a mobile device to be allowed access to an electronic file there has to be a mobile network in existence”, he added.In a similar vein, he stated that they are looking to collaborate with hospitals to make the most of their wireless networks when managing operations carried out in their warehouses and when localizing medical equipment, among others things.
In Emergency Cases
According to Caraveo, there are several emergency scenarios in which mobile technology could help save lives. “When it comes to receiving medical attention inside a hospital, where surgical procedures are involved, it is vital you have immediate access to the instruments, equipment and medicines needed,” he commented.
He highlighted the use of technology known as Real Time Localization Systems (RTLS). When used on the wireless network this technology helps locate specialized equipment that has been previously identified and tagged. “The healthcare sector is starting to recognize RTLS as something that will help them to be ready for any situation; helping them to locate the necessary equipment and get to it quickly,” explained Caraveo.
While mobility is opening up exciting possibilities within the medical sector, there is also the worry that it could pose possible security threats as the information passes between the devices. This would compromise their integrity and could also lead to local data protection laws being breached.
This is why Gemalto’s Carlos Romero emphasized the need to install adequate security mechanisms protecting the clinical information. “Protecting the information passing between devices, as well as the information the doctor or hospital has stored on their systems is of vital importance,” he stated. “The medical institution should constantly monitor all activities and ensure the protection measurements required by the authorities are in place.”
Alfonso Caraveo from Motorola Solutions concluded with the statement: “Information technology is playing a vital role in the development of this sector as well as helping to raise patient satisfaction levels.”