Late last year, gastroenterologist Dr. Michael Bass decided to try out a new program: an endoscopy that patients would complete at home, with his support, over telehealth.
The COVID-19 crisis essentially shut down operations at the private practice Bass sees patients at, GI Specialist of Delaware, for some of 2020, as in-person procedures were canceled or deferred in the early days of the pandemic. Even since then, patients have been hesitant to return to the office, Bass said. He needed a way to move as much care as possible out of the practice, and like many physicians, turned to telehealth.
So, for a subset of patients who presented with symptoms like abdominal pain—and whose results had come back negative from other tests—Bass turned to at-home capsule endoscopy, a procedure in which a patient swallows a capsule about the size of a multivitamin, which houses a camera that takes photos of a patient's small bowel.
But rather than requiring the patient to swallow that capsule at a healthcare facility—the standard way it's been done for years—Bass let his patients do so at home.
Bass was using a program from Medtronic that received a temporary OK from the Food and Drug Administration during the COVID-19 emergency. Medtronic announced full regulatory clearance of the program earlier this week.
"It was already in our plan," Giovanni Di Napoli, president of the gastrointestinal business in Medtronic's medical surgical portfolio, said of releasing an at-home capsule endoscopy program. But the company pushed those plans forward after seeing in-person patient visits drop amid the pandemic.
With Medtronic's at-home program, a gastroenterologist orders equipment from Amazon to a patient's home. Via video visit the doctor then instructs the patient on how to set up the equipment—which mainly involves putting on a belt with a device that records data from the capsule, and swallowing the capsule with water like a typical pill. All in all, the telehealth visit takes about 10 to 15 minutes, according to Bass.
The at-home endoscopy equipment isn't available for a consumer to purchase on their own; a doctor has to create an Amazon Business account registered with a healthcare license to order it.
After the pill passes through the patient's system, which takes about eight hours, the patient will mail the data recorder to a Medtronic warehouse through Amazon, where the images are uploaded to the cloud for their doctor to access.
It's likely the industry will see more at-home endoscopy products in the future, said Dr. Simon Mathews, a gastroenterologist at John Hopkins Medicine and a member of the American Gastroenterological Association's Center for GI Innovation and Technology, as healthcare moves toward being more patient-centered, meeting patients where it's most convenient.