I may have seen the future of remote patient monitoring. Or to be more accurate, I have worn it. And it’s available now.

One drawback with healthcare as it is currently practiced is that patients see physicians in hospitals and offices where their vital signs can be taken and analyzed. Once they go home, however, doctors are flying blind in terms of tracking their patients’ progress. Remote monitoring can help healthcare keep tabs on patients at home, and get early warnings if something goes awry.

I recently had the opportunity to try a new solution from VitalConnect. We have written about their VitalPatch several times before; it’s a wireless patch that measures single-lead ECG, heart rate, respiration rate, skin temperature, activity, and even body position. It also has fall detection features. This smart patch is helping hospital staff monitor patients’ vital signs and other factors from a shared web-based dashboard called Vista Solution. This system can issue alerts when a patient’s data falls outside the defined target ranges. But this designed for use in clinical settings.

The new VistaTablet makes it easy to bring this functionality into the home. Using a standard tablet and custom software, the tablet serves as a mobile relay device for the VitalPatch sensor. It collects the data and forwards it to the Vista Solution platform, where it is made available to authorized healthcare professionals. The smart patch can be worn for up to five days, which is convenient for an at-home patient. And since the tablet handles all the communications (using a cell data service or a WiFi connection), there is no need to configure a smartphone or other device that might not be available in the patient’s home.

I found the whole system easy to setup and operate. The patch delivered data reliably to the tablet, where I could review the current readings as well as some summary details such as the number of steps taken. The instructions say that it’s okay to shower while wearing the patch, but to avoid putting it in the direct flow of water. You cannot swim with it, or undertake activities that might cause you to sweat extensively. You do not need to keep the VistaTablet with you all the time as it will download stored data from the patch, but it should be nearby as much as possible in order for alerts to be issued in a timely manner if needed. I encountered a problem with the adhesive letting go when I got sweaty; according to a company representative, this problem can be addressed by placing a protective layer over the patch.

Overall, this was a convenient and apparently effective device. (I didn’t run any specific tests to verify its accuracy.) It clearly will provide more data than could be derived from daily nursing visits, and probably is a lot more reliable than patient self-reporting. As this technology becomes more affordable and more widely available, I expect to see remote home monitoring adopted for a wide range of conditions and complaints, and not just limited to post-discharge patients.