The voice over concludes: “Even kids know it’s wrong to hold out on somebody.”
While the ad cracks me up, it also reminds me that when it comes to remote follow-up and monitoring of ICDs and pacemakers: patients are getting toy ponies while doctors and industry are getting the real ones.
Patients are asked to adopt this new technology and are pitched the conveniences of fewer office visits, lesser travel expenses, and the ability to send transmissions anytime from (almost) anywhere. Medtronic’s web site, for example, promises patients “a new sense of freedom through remote monitoring.” It claims that “nearly 300,000 people around the world benefit from Medtronic’s home monitoring,” gaining more freedom, convenience and peace of mind.
While I agree that these are definite benefits, they’re not significant enough to persuade me to adopt remote monitoring. They also do not compare to indisputable financial benefits both doctors and manufacturers enjoy from our adoption of the technology. “By enabling routine device follow-ups remotely, doctors can quickly and thoroughly review the status of a patient’s heart condition, and schedule follow-up appointments only when necessary,” says Medtronic in this press release.
The key word here is “quickly”. In a world of declining reimbursements, efficiency means profitability. Remote monitoring allows for doctors to “see” more patients without really seeing them. Sadly, most of us are only too happy to jump on the bandwagon without giving it a second thought.
Should we want fewer office visits?
So, are fewer visits to the doctor a real benefit to us? Not necessarily. During my visits, I always ask for and bring home copies of my interrogation reports. I enjoy reviewing the report with my electrophysiologist and appreciate our interaction and access to his knowledge and expertise. I would not trade this valuable time for the convenience of remote monitoring alone. Sure, remote monitoring has its conveniences, but it also means having less access to information. And, to me, that’s a serious inconvenience.
|What I see as a true benefit is 24/7 access to my heart’s data: the same data doctors and manufacturers download and access remotely from my implantable device.|
Here’s the breakdown of what you’re giving up when you agree to the “plastic toy pony”:
- You are passing up the opportunity for valuable face time with your doctor. It’s your chance to ask questions and get educated about your condition. It’s about access. If you think you can call the clinic and get your EP on the line to answer your questions after transmitting your data, good luck and God bless your credulous heart.
- It’s much harder to get a copy of your interrogation report if you don’t go into the clinic. Ironically, with remote monitoring, your data is even less available to you. You must ask the clinic to mail you a copy of the report or use 20th century technology and have it faxed to you. If you’re already at the clinic, all it takes is to ask them to print you an extra copy.
- You must have a landline to use remote monitoring. If you’re like me and others who only use mobile phones and digital/VoIP phones, you’re out of luck. Most remote monitoring systems only work over traditional landlines. The only exception (as I write this) is Biotronik’s system. Biotronik is the pioneer in the field of remote follow-up and monitoring of pacemakers and ICDs. The data retrieved from their devices is transmitted to a center in Germany using the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) network. This is the main advantage of their system.
As we look for ways to reduce heath care costs, remote monitoring and follow-ups for patients with pacemakers and ICDs is likely to become the standard of care. However, I believe patients must be made a part of the equation and be empowered to review all our data via the Internet. After all, it is data about OUR BODIES. And as our own best advocates, we’re entitled to having full access to it.
One thing is for sure. Until I can get a “real pony,” I'm holding off on remote monitoring.