An article in today’s newsletter reports on the development of a post-surgery wireless skin patch that would allow patients to self-monitor themselves at home after orthopedic surgery through the use of cell phones.

The technology, to be developed and commercialized by Gentag, Inc. and the CORE Institute®, combines advanced sensors with Gentag’s wireless sensor platform that is compatible with cell phones that have a specific chip technology. This includes cell phones such as the Apple iPhone, which will be armed with a soon-to-be released RFID retrofit to ensure the technology is accessible to customers. Clinical trials are set to begin in 2010.

According to the release, this wireless patch should help reduce post-orthopedic surgical-related medical costs by reducing the time patients spend in hospitals and detecting possible problems earlier with less pain and risk.

While there is much more to learn and understand in the way of this new capability, this technology could be pivotal in providing patients with control over their health while still maintaining a solid connection to their physician. This could be a telemedicine capability that provides patients and physicians with the true control necessary to make telemedicine possible.

Telemedicine capabilities are becoming important in today’s healthcare environment. With the rising costs of healthcare, patients and physicians alike strive for faster and safer recoveries with less pain and the associated medications, and less time spent in the hospital.

In recent years, telemedicine has emerged as a possible solution to this—the idea that patients can spend more of their recovery time at home. Doctors can check in on their patients digitally, often via a computer screen. Between remote communication with physicians and online resources, patients spend less time in the hospital, thus utilize less healthcare resources and ultimately reduce costs.

The current problem with these capabilities, though, has been the question of whether telemedicine care can equate to the same standard of care a patient would receive if they were seeing their physician in-person. Surgeons and their patients simply cannot begin to rely on telemedicine technology if it is going to lower the standard of care. Further, providing telemedicine capabilities for patients and physicians to remotely communicate and check-in are expensive, and sometimes inaccessible.

Arguably, more control over their health is given to patients through telemedicine capabilities. When a patient is released from the hospital earlier and spends more post-op recovery time at home, a certain level of power over their health is handed to them. To a certain extent, the patient is now more responsible for knowing when something may be wrong. Overall, this is arguably a positive thing. However, resources at patients’ disposal, such as online websites, may act as a replacement for a physician, and it leaves the information open for interpretation on the part of the patient.

For example, take the paranoid surgical patient who types in every symptom of post-surgical pain or discomfort and links it to a deadly illness or infection. Or the contrary, the patient who looks at signs that something may be wrong as “nothing,” then shows up at the hospital with a complication that should have been treated days ago. Or, as suggested in this story, patients could literally use these resources as a replacement for physicians and take any procedures or treatments wrongfully into their own hands.

While more needs to be learned about this technology, the wireless post-operative patch could solve some of the pitfalls related to telemedicine today by providing patients and physicians the control and power each need to maintain a standard of care.

It could offer patients with control over their post-op recovery by allowing them to go home. Yet, through sensors, it could also provide the controls and standards set by their physician to tell them—on their cell phone—when something is wrong, rather than leaving it open to interpretation.

What do you think of this new technology? Could it be the answer to some of our telemedicine woes? E-mail me at