Telemedicine Helps Monitor Parkinson's Symptoms in Patients
Telehealth is continuing to be explored in an ever increasing number of medical conditions. Each research effort looks at the technology as the best thing since sliced bread, but each looks at it anew. This is both good and bad. Good because it shows that remote healthcare can work on its own for a range of given medical issues. Bad because whilst this keeps up there is no central drive to provide telehealth for all, irrespective of medical conditions or requirements. In fact there is a real danger of multiple incompatible systems forming and becoming standardised.
A study on the use of telehealth to treat Parkinson's, avoiding the need to bring easily confused people into the hospital environment more often than necessary, is an excellent example of this. Doctors Kevin Biglan and Ray Dorsey from University of Rochester Medical Center in the US have been conducting tests on whether telemedicine is an appropriate option for getting patients and physicians together, ignoring all previous research as they do so.
That's not to say that the work is entirely pointless of course. For one thing, their experiments have looked at whether the technology is good enough to observe resting tremor, bradykinesia, rigidity, postural instability, and other symptoms of Parkinson's across a video-link. That was not conducted previously, and holds the potential for true health benefits. Of course to do so, yet another highly specialised program had to be developed.
The doctors enrolled a group of elderly Parkinson's patients from the Presbyterian Home for Central New York into a pilot study to test their work. Normally, the elderly residents of the home have to make 10-12 trips a year into the hospital environment to undergo testing, which can be distressing and exhausting for the elderly individuals. The process of testing them almost does more harm than the testing averts, by the strain it often puts on the individuals, dragging them out of their normal routine, and bussing them across the county.
The system used to test the feasibility of telehealth was not completely built from scratch. Parts of it were based upon a technological backbone developed at the University of Rochester Medical Centre previously, to conduct remote pediatric and dental evaluations on patients in schools, day care centres, and other locations. The system is essentially low tech, low cost solution and consists of a laptop, software, and a web camera that allows the physicians to interact with and visually assess patients.
Patients are brought to a room in the nursing home with a flat screen television so they can see the physicians. All the doctors in Rochester require on their end is a computer equipped with a web camera.
An initial pilot project, funded by the Presbyterian Home, followed 14 patients for 6 months and then evaluated the outcomes of those who received telemedicine care with those who did not. The study discovered results that mesh predictably well with practically every other telehealth or telemedicine study performed to date: telemedicine patients had significant improvements in quality of life and motor function. In addition, those receiving telemedicine had trends toward higher satisfaction with their care.