Telemetry. It’s a word I had heard many times, but it was usually closely associated in my mind with rockets and space shuttles. To be honest, the first time I heard it used in relation to healthcare I was a little taken aback. In fact, it caused me to look up a word I thought I knew for a formal definition. This is what I found:
Telemetry is an automated communications process by which measurements are made and other data collected at remote or inaccessible points and transmitted to receiving equipment for monitoring. The word is derived from Greek roots: tele = remote, and metron = measure.
In the light of that definition, the immediate impact of telemetry on healthcare, especially telemedicine came clearly into focus. In fact, looking further down the page of search results for telemetry, I noticed several results for a Telemetry Nurse as well, further solidifying an immediate link between the two disciplines.
If you run a hospital, you are most likely already very familiar with what a Telemetry Nurse does, but here is the description as posted by a University that offers degree programs for nurses.
Telemetry nurses work with patients that require special monitoring, including those recently released from the intensive care unit of a hospital. The patients they work with are often at high risk for complications, so RNs in a telemetry unit must carefully review equipment and data to detect potential symptoms of distress or danger.
Given that this type of physical on-premise equipment has been used in hospitals for quite some time, telemetry is not in any way actually new to medicine at all. However as technology advances, the applications for telemetry become wider and wider.
With the proliferation of internet connected devices and sensors, or the Internet of Things (IoT), telemetry extends beyond the on-premise, state-of-the-art equipment inside the nation’s hospitals and effectively becomes available wherever the patient may be. In fact the problem is no longer collecting the data for interpretation. Now the challenge becomes sifting through irrelevant data to find the important pieces, as well as securing that data to ensure the privacy of all that health information as it streams from a sensor through the internet, and to the nurse or physician it is intended for.
Think about the trends in technology today. People are already using telemetry in a personal way to manage wellness. They use Apple Watches or Fit Bits to track their steps and heart rates, track sleeping habits, and even set REM sensitive alarms to assure that they are always morning people. Companies like Google are even going a step further. Currently they have filed several patents on a glucose sensing contact lens, that not only tracks blood glucose levels, but also connects to the internet and smart devices, as well as includes a heads up display for the person wearing it to see the data from the lens right on their eye!
Now imagine taking all of this telemetry data and being able to share or save it right to your Electronic Health Records so that your physician has access to it to help determine the best care to give. Some say it’s comforting, others think it’s a bit scary, but in either case, it is objectively valuable to the care provider on the other end. If you consider for example some of the tragedies we have seen befall collegiate athletes because they collapse during a game from an undiagnosed condition, could it not be argued that telemetry may have reported some objective data beforehand, even though the athlete wasn’t noticing any symptoms themselves?
These are some of the encouraging promises of big data and healthcare. People like to focus on the negative side sometimes; that the insurance companies may get this data somehow and then deny insurance based on the figures. But on the flip side, your physician could be getting the data and proactively address a potentially life threatening condition as well. The risk of the first may be more than negated by the benefit of the second.
The point is that telemetry has in fact been here for a while in the ER and ICU, but now, in the new connected environment, just like a video conferencing system connects doctors and patients remotely for appointments and check-ups, telemetry connects the biometric data your body produces day in and day out to a physical data log. This allows that same physician to prescribe better treatments during those appointments and even to proactively help you manage your health long term.
I heard someone on a medical program state that “the first person to live to 150 has already been born.” IT is definitely something to ponder, and given the state of medical technology, it doesn’t seem like an outlandish claim. I can’t help but think that telemetry will play a huge role in the active management of personal health, transforming the doctor patient relationship from one of “break-fix” to a true collaboration that gives us all the ability to live long and healthy lives.
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About Bob Higginbotham
Bob Higginbotham, CTS-I, CTS-D, is the Avidex National Manager of Healthcare AV. Bob has spent his 30 year career in leadership positions in the AV industry including extensive design and build work in healthcare facilities. He owned and operated a successful AV business in Texas with multiple offices in several cities where he managed a staff of over 100 employees. Bob has served as a technical consultant for a major AV manufacturer, led the technical sales team for a national video conferencing provider and provided technology auditing services for several private education facilities. He has a unique working knowledge of audiovisual technology as well as multiple certifications in audio engineering, acoustics, AV design, CQT system commissioning and video transmission systems. Bob holds a BA in communications and has recently served as board chair for a large private school. He brings his years of technical knowledge and leadership experience to Avidex where he leads the national healthcare AV team. Contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org