NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 19, 2006

The health care industry increasingly is using telemedicine to monitor patients' health remotely as more insurers begin covering the technology, says the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

Telemedicine devices have been available for more than 10 years, but the technology did not begin to experience widespread use until after 2000, when Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) launched a new funding plan for home health care agencies that was based on patients' diagnoses instead of the number of visits required.

Device makers said the change prompted providers to seek more efficient methods of providing care.

  • Recently, providers have begun taking advantage of high-speed Internet connections -- and the accompanying expansion of coverage of telemedicine services -- to supplement their monitoring services with new devices.
  • One such device is a $3,500-vital sign monitor for home use made by Honeywell's HomMed division that includes a glucometer, a blood pressure cuff, a finger sensor and a video function.
  • Montefiore Medical Center in New York City is using bathroom scales that plug into phone jacks to allow nurses to monitor heart patients who have returned home for signs of worsening disease.

According to Harry Wang, an analyst at Parks Associates in Dallas, sales of such devices are expected to grow from $461 million in 2005 to more than $2.5 billion in 2010.

Still, not all devices are covered by insurers, as the effectiveness of remote monitoring for certain conditions remains unproven, the Journal reports. For example, Cigna covers home monitors for some heart patients but uses phone calls from nurses for most other chronic conditions, according to Medical Director Jeffrey Kang.

Source: Elena Cherney, "New Ways to Monitor Patients at Home; As Insurers Increasingly Cover 'Telemedicine,' Companies Launch Wave of Devices," Wall Street Journal, April 18, 2006.

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