M2M improves healthcare

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  • Deutsche Telekom is co-founder of the first regional telemedicine network
  • Market researchers predict increasing number of M2M applications in the healthcare sector
  • Machine-to-machine speeds up emergency communication

From nursing and inpatient treatment to emergency care, machine-to-machine technology (M2M) can significantly improve healthcare in many areas. M2M is defined as automated data exchange between various devices or between one device and a central control center. For example, ECG units already exist that transmit information on the blood pressure, pulse, or blood sugar level of the patient to doctors in the nearest hospital while the patient is being transported in the ambulance. This enables medical personnel to prepare for the arrival of the patient and start the right treatment quicker - a time factor that can save lives in emergencies.

M2M reduces costs
Deutsche Telekom and its partners have launched Germany's first full-coverage regional telemedicine network in Brandenburg. This network looks after 500 high-risk heart patients. Doctors are able to monitor the condition of these patients remotely around the clock. Previously, heart patients who live in the country often had to travel very long distances for routine check-ups at hospitals or specialist offices. Machine-to-machine communication means these patients can now measure their weight and blood pressure themselves every day at home and generate an ECG. The measuring devices then send the values via Bluetooth to a base station equipped with an M2M SIM. This station forwards the medical data directly to the electronic patient file of one of the telemedicine centers via a secure Deutsche Telekom mobile connection. A team of doctors there monitors the incoming data around the clock. If a critical health condition becomes apparent, the doctors inform the patients, their GPs, or in an emergency, the doctor on call. For patients, remote monitoring and real-time transmission of health data with M2M technology reduces risks and improves their quality of life.

Apps for transmitting patient data
This improvement in quality of life is proving highly attractive to increasing numbers of people. According to analysts at Berg Insight, over 2.8 million patients worldwide were using medical remote monitoring in their homes by the end of 2012. And this figure is set to increase in future. A study by the research-2guidance institute concluded that mobile end devices are becoming more and more important in medical care. According to this study, 67 percent of companies in the healthcare sector believe that the majority of doctors will use apps for the transfer and storage of patient data by 2015. M2M technology promises to be particularly effective in helping to treat lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and asthma, because having a measure of independent control also motivates patients to improve their situation. The German Federal Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media (BITKOM) believes that mobile healthcare solutions of this kind could alleviate cost increases in the healthcare sector by allowing the chronically ill to record their vital signs at home.

M2M speeds up emergency communication
It is not just medical data that can be more efficiently transmitted using this technology. M2M solutions also significantly speed up emergency communication. One system that takes advantage of the benefits of M2M, for example, is the Limmex emergency watch developed by Deutsche Telekom in partnership with the eponymous Swiss watch manufacturer and the German Red Cross. With this watch, you can call for help anytime, anywhere at the touch of a button. A speaker and microphone integrated in the watch allow direct communication, e.g., with an emergency call center. It uses an M2M SIM card for the mobile connection. Up to ten emergency numbers can be saved in the watch. In case of an emergency, the watch calls the numbers in sequence until someone answers. Alternatively, there is an around-the-clock direct line to the Red Cross.

Tracking systems also massively speed up emergency communication, for instance if at-risk patients wear a tracking device at all times. Nowadays, the vast majority of these tracking systems are no bigger than a cigarette pack and fit in any jacket pocket. In an emergency, the emergency call center can see immediately where the person who transmitted the call is located and which emergency vehicle can get to them the quickest.

Standardized data exchange
To harness the potential of M2M technology even more effectively for medical applications, companies like Deutsche Telekom are intensely involved in the "Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise" (IHE) initiative. This is an international body made up of system manufacturers and system users, whose goal is to promote standardized data exchange and processes in the healthcare sector. The standard forms the basis for networking medical information systems that are not yet able to communicate with each other. Deutsche Telekom is currently in the process of networking hospitals, medical centers, and doctors in private practice using the IHE-compliant software MDES (Medical Data Exchange Solution). This prevents duplicate exams and enables doctors to quickly exchange information about their findings and rapidly access vital patient data in an emergency.