Mobile tech can help cut readmissions for COPD patients

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Mobile technology can help keep patients suffering from severe pulmonary disease out of hospitals, according to the research conducted at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Hospital readmission is typically very high for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), with about 20 percent of them getting readmitted within 30 days due to complications relating to the disease. Modern mobile technology can solve this problem by using real-time communications between patients and providers.

Surya Bhatt, M.D. — assistant professor in the division of pulmonary, allergy and critical care at the University of Alabama — led the study in which patients were able to communicate with doctors and receive real-time support, when needed. During the study, none of the 14 patients needed to be readmitted to a hospital in the first 30 days, and each revealed significant improvement in everyday functions.

“We were pleasantly surprised at how quickly patients adapted to the new technology,” Bhatt told FierceMobileHealthcare. “We recognize this may not always be the case and have simplified the technology to about the level of simply being able to use a smartphone.”

Patients used a smartphone with preloaded apps that allowed caregivers to observe them as they exercised and monitor vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen levels. Also, caregivers were able to remotely set tasks, asking patients to complete different exercise programs.

During the study, none of the 14 patients needed to be readmitted to a hospital in the first 30 days.Nevertheless, there are still challenges with familiarization and willingness to use technology, as well as energy and bandwidth hurdles to deal with, but the potential for this kind of solution is definitely there.

“We are collaborating with engineers at UAB to improve data efficiency and energy efficiency to enable transmission of large amounts of data in packets without overburdening the system,” Bhatt said.

Going forward, Bhatt hopes to expand the study, and calls telehealth the future of medicine, especially for chronic diseases that need monitoring and adjustments of medication or behavior.