'Smart' Band-Aids signal new possibilities for remote monitoring

"Smart" Band-Aids that can detect vital signs and alert healthcare professionals when there's an abnormal reading may be new, but they represent more than a decade of advances in the field of remote monitoring.

Such sensors "can measure the electrocardiogram or heart rhythm, respiratory rate [and] the temperature of the patient," Dr. Eric Topol,  chief innovation officer for the West Wireless Health Institute, La Jolla, Calif., tells NPR's "All Things Considered." They can output data to the Internet or to patient's mobile phones, making the readings just as portable as the devices themselves. 

And though a recent Department of Veterans Affairs study showed that remote monitoring devices can reduce hospitalizations by 19 percent and Kaiser Permanente found similar results in its Colorado region, few insurers are paying for such technology. One reader's comment on the NPR page sums up the skepticism: "So what? No one other than rich people will be able to afford these things anyway."

While payers try to figure out if smart monitors are cost-effective, federal regulators will be looking at safety and jurisdictional issues. "There is a little bit of a gray area, and that's part of the reason we're stepping up our collaboration," says Julius Knapp, the Federal Communications Commission's deputy chief of engineering technology, says of that agency's collaboration with the Food and Drug Administration. "Where we need to make sure that there's reliable operation is where we may, for example, be monitoring critical, life-sustaining functions," Knapp says.

To learn more:
- read or listen to this NPR report