Senate panel explores home health monitoring technologies

Now we're getting somewhere.

After a year of acrimonious debate, politically motivated distortions and gamesmanship in the name of passing "healthcare reform," some members of Congress finally turned their attention to something that really could do more than just expand insurance coverage. The Senate Committee on Aging last week held a hearing on broadband technologies in healthcare, with a heavy focus on mobile and wireless devices.

Sen. Ron Wyden (R-Ore.) was particularly impressed with an automatic insulin dispenser that can wirelessly send and receive information to adjust dosages as the patient's condition changes, then upload readings to the patient's EMR. "What we're talking about, folks, is using a device like this one," Wyden said at the hearing, according to "It attaches to the patient's skin and is loaded with drugs that are administered in the exact way that the doctor prescribes--wirelessly."

Underlying such devices is the need for widespread availability of broadband Internet service, several committee members and witnesses said. And the payoff for a national investment in broadband networks could be lower Medicare costs. "Five percent of Medicare beneficiaries, who in most cases have one or more chronic conditions, constitute 43 percent of Medicare spending," FCC healthcare director Dr. Mohit Kaushal said in promoting his agency's broadband strategy.

Kaushal also called for Congress to authorize CMS to reimburse providers for remote care.

The health insurance reform bill enacted last month establishes a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation within CMS, and that, according to Dr. Farzad Mostashari, senior advisor in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, will allow testing of new payment models. "These models may include care coordination for chronically ill individuals at risk of hospitalization through telehealth, remote patient monitoring, care management, and patient registries," Mostashari told the committee.

For further details:
- see this story
- read witnesses' prepared statements on the Senate Committee on Aging website