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Panasonic introduces Web-based patient monitoring prototype


Panasonic introduces Web-based patient monitoring prototypeJapanese firm makes first foray into telemedicineWith the rapidly growing market for home-health products and an increasing emphasis on point-of-care and disease management

Panasonic introduces Web-based patient monitoring prototype

Japanese firm makes first foray into telemedicine

With the rapidly growing market for home-health products and an increasing emphasis on point-of-care and disease management applications, the demand for viable, low-cost, patient-centric telemedicine technologies is on the rise (HNN 8/9/00).

The Internet has been instrumental in moving traditionally hospital-based applications into the home. One of the newest entrants to the emerging “e-homehealth” market is Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. of Japan. The well-known electronics company has begun investing under its Panasonic brand name in products that enhance patient-provider communication, with initial focus on home-health applications. While Matsushita has established the Panasonic name in healthcare, primarily in Japan, the firm is known in the U.S. for its consumer electronics, a factor that could contribute to the success of its telehomecare system among consumers if the product makes it to market.

Under an FDA investigational device exemption (IDE), the firm’s North American subsidiary has partnered with the VA Connecticut Healthcare System and CM HealthCare Resources to test the feasibility of a Web-based monitoring system. According to Dr. Paul Liao, chief technology officer of Matsushita Electric Corp. of America in Secaucus, NJ, the firm has been working on the Panasonic telehomecare system for nearly three years. It chose the VA and CMHR as testing partners because of their expertise in the remote healthcare arena.

The firm has been testing the prototype in various iterations for about a year. The IDE trials are focused on patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, and asthma where providers want to monitor each patient individually and track changes in vital signs. According to Liao, the healthcare provider can put in limits for the metrics that, if exceeded, will trigger an alarm to the clinician.

The system consists of the Patient Terminal, the Active Server, and a Doctor Terminal or Central Nursing Station. The Patient Terminal is a device with a touchscreen display that captures patient vital signs including temperature, blood pressure, and blood sugar, as well as reminding the patient to take the physiological measurements and receiving messages and other information from clinicians. The data is transmitted from the measuring devices via a variety of methods—direct cable plug-in, infrared, and audio (for ECGs)—over a variety of pipes, including DSL, cable modem, and POTS (plain old telephone service).

“We may standardize the transmission type in the final version,” said Liao. “We’re experimenting to see what method is more convenient for the patient. We have an interest in Bluetooth at present; wireless is high on our list. We can also foresee automating alarms and connecting to pagers.”

The key communication enabler is the Active Server application. A combination of a database and a Web server, Active Server gives the patient information like scheduling, messages from the nurse or doctor, and alerts, while also maintaining that individual’s vital signs criteria. The server application is maintained in the provider facilities for the IDE testing environment. However, according to Liao, the program architecture can be maintained remotely by Matsushita or a third party under an ASP-type model.

“The nurse, doctor, or hospital can access patient information through a standard Web browser,” he said. “In the future, we may incorporate information provided by a third party.”

For the VA and CMHR tests, the data is secured behind the facility firewalls and the Web transactions are encrypted. The servers also contain lists of authorized IP addresses that can access the telehomecare system. To establish user identification and authentication, patients can access only their own information through the terminal, and the provider system is protected by logins and passwords. According to Liao, security in the final product may change, depending upon whether the server is maintained on- or off-site.

“It’s up to the healthcare provider,” he said. “If the server is located off-site, we would set up a virtual private network to provide security.”

The IDE trials will run until May 2001; depending upon the results, Panasonic hopes to have a telehomecare product in commercial use in the next few years. The firm is focusing on determining the feasibility of the product and on getting feedback on product design from both providers and patients.

“We’ve already redesigned the Patient Terminal once,” Liao said. “The original design was like a toolbox. The second design still has the lid, but we put the display on top and put a lot of work into making the terminal user friendly. The unit has only an on-off button and a touchscreen.”

The telehomecare system is one of the first Panasonic telemedicine products to make it out of the lab and into cooperative testing, Liao adds. The firm chose to test this system in the U.S. because the country is a market leader in networking.

“It is hard to anticipate what products will actually come to market,” he said. “We have a number of products in the lab, in our HII (Home Information Infrastructure) house, including a toilet that’s connected to the Internet that measures and transmits the urine sugar level and body weight.”

In Japan, Matsushita is beta-testing a robotic pet (currently a Teddy bear) that provides companionship to elderly people and additionally can communicate information to the owner’s healthcare provider. The “pet” is connected to the Internet and contains a number of sensors that gather data, such as noting whether the owner is active or inactive.

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