Medical Grade vs Consumer Grade – Does it Matter to Seniors’ Health?

Telemedicine is here and being used by many seniors to improve their health.

With it, seniors visit remotely with healthcare professionals, avoid hospitalization and even track their own health and wellness.

It has the potential to fundamentally change our healthcare system.

But what is telemedicine?

According to the American Telemedicine Association, telemedicine is:

The remote delivery of health care services and clinical information using telecommunications technology. This includes a wide array of clinical services using internet, wireless, satellite and telephone media.

Basically, the term telemedicine is used when medical information is shared for one place to another electronically to improve a person’s health. Telehealth is another term that is synonymous with telemedicine so you may see either word used.

Connected Health

Telemedicine has been around for many years and is being incorporated into health systems at an ever increasing pace.

Improvements in internet technology and Bluetooth capability have expanded the use of products and devices to capitalize on the need for remote monitoring of health and the ability to give access to those otherwise unserved or underserved.

  • Nearly 1 million Americans are currently using remote cardiac monitors
  • In 2011, the Veterans Health Administration delivered over 300,000 remote consultations using telemedicine
  • Over half of all U.S. hospitals now use some form of telemedicine
  • Millions have downloaded health apps on their smartphones and tablets
  • Seniors are using monitors to track vital signs and send data to physicians and caregivers
  • Many are adopting wearables and sharing data
  • Medicare has been paying for remote health monitoring in some circumstances, such as videoconferencing with a physician, as well as services such as remote radiology and cardiology services


Mobile health — also called mHealth — is a form of telemedicine that uses wireless medical devices and cellphone technology to monitor health data and share it between different people.

It is capable of capturing health information in real time and sending that information to healthcare professionals and caregivers.

The use of mHealth devices is growing among consumers, especially seniors, largely because the technology is so readily available, has become easier to use and we are learning about the benefits that can be achieved by using it.

What Do Caregivers Need to Know?

Caregivers want to use the latest technology for the health and well-being of their senior loved ones and are willing to pay for it if they think it will truly be in their benefit.

They may have worried about acceptance by their seniors but that is changing, as more older adults are adopting technology in many forms.

They also worried about security and privacy issues, which are valid concerns but being addressed by the manufacturers and even government regulation.

There are many ways to access mHealth for your senior loved one and here are some examples:

  1. Blood pressure monitors
  2. Glucose meters
  3. Cardiac monitors
  4. Pulse oximeters
  5. Scales for weight
  6. Sleep apnea monitors
  7. Fitness and health wearables
  8. Pain control
  9. Medication management
  10. Home safety – fall detection
  11. Diagnostic tools
  12. Food intake and physical activity monitors
  13. Smoking cessation
  14. Mental health services
  15. Asthma monitoring

Are Your Senior’s Devices Medical Grade?

Devices that we can buy on the shelves at the drug store and download an app from the app store on our smartphones and tablets are being purchased with the best of intentions by caregivers and all of us.

We want our smart watches to tell us every nuance of our body’s functioning and hopefully we are going to make lifestyle changes based on that information.

For seniors however, their physical and medical wellness is what caregivers are hoping to track.

We want to know if mom’s blood pressure is so high that she may need to go to the hospital. Maybe she didn’t take her medications as prescribed or had a few very high salt meals that disrupted her usual health status.

Caregivers need to know their health devices are recording this data accurately. This is especially important when an action is required based on data received, such as medication adjustments.

What Makes a Device Medical Grade?

A medical grade health monitor is different than devices like the fitness trackers because these devices must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after rigorous testing. They are more reliable than those that don’t pass the FDA. It doesn’t just stop at the device but also includes the digital network where the information is transmitted.

Healthcare professionals can more readily rely on the information medical grade devices provide.

Fitness bands and body monitors that you can buy everywhere were not tested and approved for use as medical grade so are referred to as consumer grade. This leaves some of the data obtained in question for accuracy. People enter and update their own data and thus errors can occur in the information they provide.

What does it mean to you? While a medical grade blood pressure monitor can be expected to provide a reading in line with what one would register in the doctor’s office (accounting for the difference in stress, of course), a consumer grade monitor may give a reading that is significantly different.

In addition, consumer grade devices are typically not Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protected and your data may not be secure.

Health insurers may not cover the cost of mHealth devices unless they are medical grade and proven to provide accurate results and produce a real clinical benefit for the consumer.

More Medical Grade Devices to Come

The next few years, according to tech experts, will see even more medical devices come to market seeking FDA approval that are designed to keep people out of hospitals as a result of improved chronic disease management.

We had the opportunity to speak with Dr. James Mault, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Qualcomm Life, regarding the future of medical devices and the need to manage the data they obtain.

Dr. Mault emphasized the importance of our devices being medical grade and approved through testing. That means our vital data will be what the devices says, it is so patients can benefit and their data can be safeguarded.

We intended to list some companies who offer medical grade home devices but that list is rapidly changing. At CES we talked to several companies planning to roll out medical grade devices this year, pending their FDA approval efforts, so hopefully the current relatively short list is growing.

This means you have to be careful to ensure the device you buy for your senior loved one or yourself is medical grade.

Caregivers, after all, have enough to worry about without wondering if the vital sign readings are accurate and the data secure when you send it to the doctor’s office.

Keep in mind when shopping that medical grade devices are likely to cost more, but the benefits of using these devices make them worth it.

As with most things we buy, especially when it comes to the health of our loved ones, we need to be informed!

4 thoughts on “Medical Grade vs Consumer Grade – Does it Matter to Seniors’ Health?”

  1. Hi Kathy,

    Thank you for an important post helping caregivers navigate technology aids. A lot of people purchase telemedicine products at drugstores and assume they have been rigorously tested to meet FDA requirements. Because the trust they have in their drugstore brand and they don’t know any different.

    Bringing awareness to medical grade vs commercial grade can help caregivers avoid serious set backs. Using medical grade devises to manage your loved ones health while they age in place, or those who have been recently discharged from hospital is in imperative.

    Can you share a list of company’s who are currently manufacturing medical grade telemedicine devices. I realize you decided not to post any in your article so I thought if I requested directly you might share a list with me.

    Sincere regards,

    • Glad that you found the article helpful Jim. I will send you some info on products to your email. Appreciate your support of Senior Care Corner!

  2. I’ve used a blood pressure monitor from Walgreens for the past few years. I take in to the doctor’s office each year when I have my annual physical. I find the monitor to be quite accurate. The Walgreens monitor replaced a Norelco monitor that I had since the late 80s that finally broke. It too was also very accurate when comparing to my physician’s readings.

    Telemedicine is still typically used by care providers when visiting a senior who often have trouble getting the devices to connect reliably. Anyone who’s had to pair a bluetooth device knows the problems that can occur.

    • Thanks Tom, glad to hear that the devices are working and that you are checking them at the doctor’s office. That is a good way to know the data is accurate!

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