If nothing else, Apple’s 2018 “Special Event” was a major milestone for the company’s continued entry into the healthcare tech market. The newest iteration of the Cupertino-based company’s Apple Watch will soon offer heart-friendly features such as ECG and EKG, many of which — including one that “detects instances of atrial fibrillation” and slow heartrate, according to Wired — will come with FDA approval.
While interesting enough on its own, this advancement says a lot about the near-future of telemetry, a technological category primed to see massive improvement in the next five years. The technology, broadly fined as tools that allow for the collection and transmission of data away from the confines of clinical settings, carry real promise for facilities, clinicians, and patients — particularly when used in combination with novel care delivery and staffing models.
Telemetry and Telehealth: Meet Healthcare’s New Power Couple
The transformative potential of health- and consumer-side telemetry is perhaps best viewed through the lens of telehealth, a model designed to facilitate clinician-patient interaction no matter where each party is located. Indeed, the bond between the two is so strong you could say they were inextricably linked. Telehealth ventures need telemetry to ensure caregivers have the best data and decisionmaking capacity at their disposal, while telemetry would be far more limited in its possible use cases without telehealth to advance it.
Say a man suffers a heart condition such that surgeons install a pacemaker with telemetry reporting features. Say also that he lives in a rural area or has limited access to transport, and that he must report to his health system once a week in the months following the surgery. Presuming our protagonist has a computer and a webcam, telehealth services simplify his life and ensure the system can provide sustained continuity of care despite the distance. He doesn’t need long-distance travel to see a doctor, while the physician on the other end reads data directly from the pacemaker, perhaps advising the patient to come for an in-person visit if they find data worth further investigation.
Multiply this situation by millions of patients and thousands of conditions and you begin to see the potential telemetry tools have when used in conjunction with telehealth. Today, patients can swallow a pill that checks certain types of medication compliance. In the near future, technologies currently used to monitor blood glucose levels in lab animals may be refined and adapted to human use. We are only on the cusp of what these tools can do — and telemedicine will be a driving factor in their continued development and deployment.
Can Locum Tenens Power Telemetry’s Near Future?
On its face, it may not appear that locum tenens services — useful though they are on their own — would have much impact on the average facility’s ability to employ telemetry as advancements become available. However, there are several use cases for temporary medical staffing services that will only grow in importance as telemetry comes to maturity.
Home health is one such arena. As in the telehealth section, a combination of virtual visitation and powerful data-collection capabilities will make many home-based practices obsolete in the next five to 10 years, relegating chunks of the home health spectrum into a sort of specialized telehealth role. A facility wishing to capitalize on this change could utilize locum tenens professionals via a standard telehealth service or deploy locums for specific subsets of its practice: Temporary staff comes in during spikes in home-based activity, for instance.
Nontraditional care settings are another area where locums and telemetry will make increasingly more sense in coming years. Correctional facilities, which may struggle to place full-time staff given the environment and inherent risks, could utilize locums to read critical data (medication compliance or vitals monitoring) offsite and remotely report orders; this is ultimately another take on the immense time and financial savings telehealth services currently provides jails and prisons, and a concept that can help facilities through temporary periods of extreme staffing need without overworking staff (or overstaffing them).
Finally, clinical research settings will also find added value in locums in the near future. Already deployed to great effect in a modern context, the expanded capabilities of near-future telemetry tools will mean more need for medical expertise than ever: Healthcare professionals will be needed to read and interpret data, administer exams, provide consultations, and carry out numerous other tasks, a fact not lost on research organizations such as corporate R&D departments. Having a wealth of talent available as better, easier data becomes available has obvious benefits.
To be sure, telemetry is on the cusp of something big. Both consumer- and medical-grade tools will continually refine the amount and quality of data they provide in coming years, decentralizing current healthcare models and increasing need for services that make healthcare talent available anywhere, any time patients and clients need it. To this end, expect telemedicine and locum tenens to provide much of the structure needed for these tools to flourish — a role they’ve already proven adept at.