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After years in the “emerging technology” category, remote patient monitoring (RPM) is poised to become an industry standard in this new decade. Leading hospitals are using it to enhance post-acute care, while primary care physicians are using it to optimize chronic care management. Some health insurers are even launching RPM programs designed to monitor and engage high-risk populations.
Why does everyone suddenly want a piece of the RPM pie? Because a decade’s worth of research shows it can improve patient engagement and health outcomes, thereby reducing readmissions and lowering healthcare costs. Meanwhile, new healthcare legislation allows physicians to bill for the service.
Given these possibilities, 88 percent of healthcare organizations are investing or considering investing in remote monitoring technologies, and 68 percent of physicians “strongly intend” to use RPM in the future.
How do leading RPM solutions work? What are the benefits for hospitals, physicians, health plans and patients?
How remote patient monitoring works
Remote monitoring is digital technology that collects biometric data (e.g., blood pressure, oxygen saturation, glucose levels) from a patient at one location, analyzes and interprets that data and transmits it to care providers at another location.
Until recently, RPM was mostly used for diagnostic purposes. For example, patients might wear a 30-day heart monitor to check for arrhythmias and heart failure or use an at-home sleep study kit to screen for sleep apnea. These proprietary devices involved patches and wires, and patients only used them for a short period of time.
Modern RPM solutions are designed for a longer-term patient experience as a way to help people with chronic diseases better manage their conditions. So, they are built on top of consumer-grade mobile devices. Thanks to wearables and Bluetooth biometrics devices, patients don’t have to be wired to these devices. This makes the technology more user-friendly and cost-effective, and lets RPM vendors take advantage of mobile innovations. Rather than building their own proprietary devices from scratch, they can leverage state-of-the-art sensor technology and new wearable form factors that mobile device manufacturers are steadily developing.
3 remote patient monitoring solutions that are reducing readmissions
Different RPM solutions have different methods for collecting biometric data, including the following examples.
1. Wearable mobile devices
Preventice customizes Samsung Gear smartwatches using Samsung Knox Configure, which lets the provider kiosk and customize the watch to be a dedicated device for RPM. Sensors in the watch gather biometric data and transmit it to the Preventice platform, which streamlines the information for physicians. In a soon-to-be-published study, Preventice found the watch could prevent a significant percentage of unnecessary emergency room visits and outpatient visits.
2. Patch-based sensors
The VitalConnect VitalPatch is an FDA-approved wearable biosensor that continuously gathers eight types of biometric data — from electrocardiogram and heart rate to body posture and activity levels. The patch streams data to the patient’s smartphone and then to the VitalConnect platform. Physicians can view the data via the VistaTablet, a customized Samsung Galaxy Tab. At Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts, VitalConnect helped reduce hospitalization costs by 52 percent and improved patient outcomes.
3. Bluetooth biometric devices
The Vivify Pathways Home solution includes a customized Samsung Galaxy tablet and Bluetooth-enabled biometric devices (e.g, blood pressure cuff, weight scale, glucometer). Patients use these devices to collect data and answer daily health questions on the tablet. In a clinical trial with Christus Health, the solution helped reduce hospital readmissions by 65 percent among congestive heart failure patients.
Some leading RPM providers, including Vivify, offer a variety of solutions that utilize different data collection methods. Regardless of the collection method, data is then securely transmitted to a third-party, HIPAA-compliant RPM platform that analyzes the data and delivers it to physicians via user-friendly dashboards with useful analytics. This way, clinicians can monitor patients in between office visits, spot troublesome trends in real time and intervene before patients need to be hospitalized.
New markets for remote patient monitoring
Most early RPM adopters were hospitals and home health organizations focused on reducing readmissions. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), hospitals stand to lose up to 3 percent of all Medicare reimbursements based on readmission rates alone. In 2020, readmissions will cost 2,583 U.S. hospitals roughly $563 million.
However, RPM isn’t just an effective solution for reducing readmissions. It can also help improve health outcomes for chronically ill patients — roughly six in 10 adults in the U.S. — by enabling their physicians to better support, educate and watch out for them. Clinicians can intervene before minor problems turn into major ones, and patients get the tools and information they need to take greater ownership of their health. More than 60 percent of patients say they feel more engaged during discussions with their healthcare providers when patient-generated health data is part of the experience.
When patients are empowered with health data and connected to their caregivers, they’re less likely to end up in the hospital. That’s why insurers are also getting in the RPM business. For example, after a successful pilot program with Vivify Health, UnitedHealth subsidiary Optum recently purchased the RPM provider and plans to fuel its group with UnitedHealth members, as well as other health insurers.
Physicians are also beginning to adopt remote monitoring solutions, now that some health insurers are willing to pay for it. More importantly, CMS — the single largest payer for senior and chronically ill Americans — now reimburses for it.
Now that the federal government recognizes the value of RPM for reducing readmissions and improving chronic disease management, the once-emerging technology begins this decade as a bonafide clinical solution. And because the leading RPM products are built on consumer devices, they will advance rapidly in the coming years and finally deliver on the digital-age promise of connected healthcare.