Patient demand is growing as the U.S. population ages. Use of implantable defibrillators has risen from about 21,000 in 1995 to more than 250,000 last year. With such high numbers involved, some doctors worry whether they’ve got enough staff and time to process the influx of data home monitoring systems can provide. For example, what responsibility do medical staff face to respond immediately to a potential sign of trouble that turns up in a batch of downloaded data? How do they sort out real problems from the false alarms?"There are concerns about information overload," said Dr. David Martin of the Lahey Clinic in Burlington. "Physicians have less and less time, and they don’t want to have fewer patients coming to their clinics at the expense of having too much paperwork." But Martin expects remote monitoring will enable his team of five electrophysiologists to track their more than 4,600 patients more closely. "There are not enough doctors and nurses to follow these people, so it makes sense to use technology to automate some of the functions that don’t require physicians’ input," Martin said.
So as the technology races ahead, the service organizations which will do the monitoring need to be put into place. But of course this being health care they are only going to be put into place if someone pays for them. And that someone is Medicare. So the key question remains, is this a medical service that has already been granted Medicare’s blessing, or is this some type of disease management service that is still in trial? We know which end of that scale the manufacturers want this to be on, but if this technology cuts physician visits and doesn’t replace them with other funding streams, it won’t be too popular amongst doctors. Which means that it’s all very well but for now these patients are a bit like the guy with the first fax machine!