Medtronic eyes Europe?s telemedicine market
Medtronic plans to extend its presence as a telemedicine provider, with the launch an entire series of new products in Europe in 2008 that will all be tailored for remote monitoring.

“The wave of telemedicine is now hitting the medical devices industry, and Medtronic will take a lead,” said Peter Steinmann, vice president for distance monitoring at Medtronic Western Europe.

The company Tuesday presented its telemedicine plans at its European headquarters in Tolochenaz, Switzerland. At the heart of the company’s telemedicine initiative is the CareLink platform, an internet-based solution for remote medical device monitoring and remote patient monitoring.

CareLink was introduced in Europe in 2007, but so far in pilot projects only. This will change in 2008, according to Medtronic’s CEO Bill Hawkins.
“In 2007, the number of CareLink users more than doubled to a total of 230,000, mostly in the United States,” said Hawkins.

CareLink has been available in the United States since 2004. The platform is currently used for the remote monitoring of patients with implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICD) or pacemakers and for web-based continuous blood glucose-monitoring. In both cases, the physician can check patient or device data remotely via the internet, according to Medtronic.

The new product line-up includes new generation ICD and pacemaker systems that are capable of wireless data transfer without the need of an antenna to collect the data.

The devices will also have an automatic alert function for pulmonary edema, or OptiVol, which measures electrical currents in the thorax and generates an email or short message-alert for the physician in case a pulmonary edema is developing in the patient.

Wireless glucose sensors for diabetics and insulin pumps are also made compatible with the CareLink telemedicine platform so that a fully automatic transmission of blood glucose levels into the internet platform is possible, the company said.

Medtronic’s patient management director for Western Europe, Keyne Monson, said that the main obstacle for a quick implementation of CareLink-based telemonitoring in Europe is reimbursement.

“There is the question of who pays for the patient’s equipment for data transmission. But even if Medtronic decided to give this away for free, there is still the issue of who pays for the remote diagnostic procedure,” Monson said.

Medtronic’s vice president and deputy general counsel, Herb Riband, made it clear the huge differences in the reimbursement in different European countries.

“Germany, the United Kindgom and Portugal are heading the crowd. They do cover remote device checks for cardiac implants already or will do so soon. In general, though, there is a lack of incentives to use remote monitoring throughout Europe,” Riband noted. “The goal is to make the new technology broadly available in 2010. This is very straightforward, but, frankly, it will take more than two years to have the results.”

Riband added that there is a government-backed project in the region of Lombardia, and in Sweden, while most other European countries are far behind.

Efforts are also underway to make the CareLink-network more attractive, particularly to physicians, according to Medtronic, whose website will undergo a relaunch later this year, offering different user interfaces for different medical specialties.

“This will make it easier for different physicians to offer remote monitoring for the same patient on different conditions,” said Monson.

Medtronic said it will also include electronic communication tools into its platform for doctors to communicate directly through CareLink and new connectivity software is under development that will gather data from different devices and feed it into clinical information systems.