Market booming for wireless monitoring devices

An industry report says sales of the technology have doubled in four years and are expected to triple in the next four years.

By — Posted Nov. 14, 2011

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The increased use of electronic medical records is one of the top reasons why wireless patient monitors are the fastest-growing medical device segments in terms of revenue, according to market research published by Kalorama Information.

The wireless monitoring device industry in the U.S. has doubled in the past four years to a current value of $7.1 billion. And it's expected to triple in the next four years, reaching $22.2 billion by 2015, according to Kalorama's report, "Remote and Wireless Patient Monitoring Markets." The growth has outpaced other medical devices such as defibrillators and catheters, the report said.

Nearly all the devices on the market can send data directly to a physician's EMR system, according to Kalorama's report. Physicians can customize algorithms used to evaluate a patient's specific condition to send reports back to them.

The report said cost savings is a factor in the industry's growth. Wireless devices allow more people to be monitored by fewer personnel.

The report also said the growth can be attributed to an aging population and increased cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes, two of the top conditions requiring monitoring.

"It's unusual to see over 20% growth in the tight, volume-buy medical device market," said Bruce Carlson, publisher of Kalorama Information. "The new wireless patient monitoring systems aren't facing these obstacles, because they appeal both to the need of payers to cut hospital stays and to the need of providers to deal with reduced staff."

In most cases, Carlson said, the report does not include monitoring devices that run on smartphones. However, Kalorama did provide a snapshot of growth in medical software apps. The report estimated that a current $84 million market will grow to $400 million in 2015.

A Pew Internet & American Life Project report published on Nov. 2 found that 11% of adult cell phone users in the U.S. have downloaded an app to help them monitor health. Many of these apps are not considered monitoring devices but a place to record calories or exercise. But there are a growing number of more advanced apps that monitor vital signs and help patients manage chronic diseases.

Several medical device manufacturers have created mobile app versions of monitoring systems and even have sought FDA approval for use as a medical device. Because of the demand, the FDA issued proposed oversight for medical-related smartphone apps in July.

One of the first app developers to voluntarily seek and receive FDA clearance was AirStrip Technologies in San Antonio for its AirStrip OB application. The company now has three mobile apps with FDA clearance. The apps are considered to be true clinical tools, because physicians are using the information to make clinical decisions.

Clinicians use the AirStrip apps to remotely check on the health of a patient who is being monitored inside a hospital with stationary equipment. But other apps actually do the data collecting and send them to the physician.

Because of the ease and convenience of data collection from a device patients would have on them anyway, efforts are under way to explore the possible benefits and challenges to collecting data that goes beyond vital signs and lab values.

A project launched in 2009 by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Pioneer Portfolio is examining so-called observations of daily living data monitoring in clinical care. For the project, which just entered its second phase, five teams with unique monitoring devices are examining how data related to moods, behaviors, feelings and environment can be collected using wireless devices, integrated into clinical workflow and used for decision-making.

Five teams are testing apps for patients with asthma, Crohn's disease and obesity; elderly patients; and parents of high-risk infants. The teams are working with physicians to test how the data can be used for decision-making.

"We know that patients find this information meaningful to their health, and a few pioneering clinicians are beginning to use this information to inform clinical decision-making," RWJF said in an October report on the project.

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