Tuesday, June 1, 2010
An Obvious Trend: Hi-Tech Devices to Help Sick Patients Avoid Re-Hospitalization and To Be Treated or To Die at Home
The obvious, which is not so obvious, and the simple, which is not so simple.
The Practical Cogitator, 1959
TOKYO—Targeting Japan's growing elderly population, General Electric Co. Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt pushed the country Monday to invest in health-care information technology systems and devices that make home treatment easier.
By Daisusuke Wakabayashi, “GE’s Immelt Targets Elderly Japan.” Wall Street Journal, June 1, 2010
First, the obvious. There’s no place like home.
Obviously most of us, given the choice, and faced with chronic disease and devices to help weather the final storm, would prefer to spend our last days at home, among familiar surroundings and among our loved ones. We would rather die in our own bed rather than a hospital bed.
Certainly that was the case with my mother, who died at age 60 of carcinoma of the lung. It was the case of my 60 year old twin sister, who succumbed to Mad-Cow disease. It was the case of my 89 year old next door neighbor, who died a lingering death from intractable congestive failure. It is the case of a 85 year old woman friend, who is now on morphine drip to relieve pain from painful metastatic disease. It is the case of a 79 year lawyer friend with renal failure, who prefers to be dialyzed at home rather than going three times a week to a dialysis center. There is simply no more comfortable place to be treated or to die than home.
New, and not so new technologies, make it possible – and less expensive – to be at home for one’s final disease. One of these not-so-new technology devices are bed-side audiovisual devices connected by ordinary phone lines to a doctor or a nurse in a distant location. This device, made available by American Telecare, Inc, makes it possible to monitor patients’ blood oxygen, weigh them, take their blood pressure, listen to their heart and lung, and talk to and observe patients. Furthermore, bed-ridden patients can be quickly educated to spot their own complications. Patients initiate the encounter and feel in control of their own destinies. Using this approach, one can reduce a patients’ readmissions to an ER or a hospital to near zero.
Just yesterday, William Abraham, MD, of Ohio State Medical Center, announced the results of a 15 month study. It indicated a small implantable wireless pulmonary artery device, the size of a safety pin, to measure pressure in that artery had reduced readmissions for congestive heart failure by 38 percent.
Commented Abraham, “"This study represents the first major breakthrough in the management of heart failure in nearly a decade,” For the first time instead of managing symptoms or weight gain the device allows us to directly manage patient’s pulmonary pressures.”
Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE, who was in Tokyo speaking at GE's "Healthymagination" conference. He said health care devices are a growing, large business in developing and emerging markets.
"So if I were to write a business plan for you, it would be to dominate health-care information technology and home health-care devices," said Mr. Immelt.
The need for wireless home monitoring devices can only grow, in Japan as elsewhere. The percentage of Japan's population over the age of 65 has grown to 22.1% in 2008 from 17.3% in 2000. The government projects this figure to go above 30% in 2030.
While GE's other infrastructure businesses like energy and transportation have been heavily focused on faster-growing Asian economies like China and India, Japan and its aging society presents promising opportunities for GE's health-care arm.
According to figures from Japan's health ministry, the domestic medical equipment market accounts for annual sales of about 2.1 trillion yen, or $23 billion.
Mr. Immelt also said Japan has an opportunity to be a leader in creating smaller medical devices to enable treatment of chronic diseases in homes instead of hospitals. This will help to lower overall health-care costs, especially as medical breakthroughs change once-deadly diseases to chronic illnesses.
"You can not treat those people in a hospital. You have to treat them at home," said Mr. Immelt. "Because of the aging population, this could be the economy that develops the devices and the protocols of how to really do home health.