The benefits of remote monitoring have been in the spotlight since the COVID-19 pandemic began. This invaluable telehealth practice has provided a convenient, customizable health data solution that enables social distancing while saving time and energy for clinicians across all specialties.
Remote patient monitoring (RPM) is digital technology that collects secure health data from patients via an internet connection from any location and electronically transmits it to healthcare providers to in turn make assessments and recommendations. RPM devices allow healthcare providers to continue tracking health data after a patient’s visit to an office, hospital, or care facility. The more patients can submit data and ask questions from the comfort of their kitchen, bedroom, or even car, the more they’ll build trust with their clinicians and the easier it will be for them to stay engaged in their care.
In the face of a looming healthcare provider shortage, the U.S. healthcare system is already embracing the benefits of remote patient monitoring. It’s expanding access to patient care in communities and regions of the country with few health systems. Healthcare providers in all specialties are reporting how much more efficient and organized their workflow has become since they’ve started supporting their Care Management strategies with remote patient monitoring.
Clinical benefits of remote patient monitoring
Historically, healthcare providers have scheduled regular office visits to monitor biometrics like heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and vitamin deficiencies for patients with chronic conditions. These frequent visits can be stressful for both patients and providers, increasing cancellations and decreasing compliance. RPM devices can help resolve these issues by achieving the following:
Increasing care plan compliance
The Pew Research Center reports that 92% of American adults now have a smartphone — so they’re comfortable with and even dependent on them. Many prefer sending digital data to their healthcare provider at a convenient time and place rather than disrupting their routines and work schedules with doctor visits.
That makes them quite motivated to use RPM devices in lieu of a few check-ups inside huge health systems that require taking days off of work, paying for transportation, and planning childcare.
When patients are engaged in generating their own health data, they’re more likely to feel like a true partner rather than just a patient — so they’re more likely to comply with their provider’s instructions and data-sharing expectations for chronic conditions like:
- Heart disease and stroke: according to Million Hearts, one-third of deaths in the U.S. are caused by heart disease, which costs the healthcare system $200 billion every year and costs employers $130 billion in lost productivity annually.
- Diabetes: the CDC reports that 34 million Americans are living with diabetes and another 88 million are diagnosed with pre-diabetes — costing the country $325 billion in medical and lost productivity costs.
- Asthma and COPD: The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates the annual direct costs of asthma in the United States is $50.1 billion (mostly for hospital stays) and indirect costs make up $5.9 billion (mostly from loss of wages during sick days).
When they can consistently collect biometric data, healthcare providers gain valuable insights into what a patient is or isn’t doing — and why — via Telehealth platforms. Clinicians can determine whether patients need more education on their condition, then provide it digitally.
Patients who know and trust their clinicians get in the habit of communicating regularly and reading the resources they receive to better understand their care plan or get back on track with their treatment. Remote monitoring in healthcare empowers patients to be accountable and feel they’ve contributed to their recovery.
Too many patients wait until their condition has dangerously deteriorated to schedule and manage a visit to their care provider’s office. Remote patient monitoring enables them to observe and track vital signs to monitor chronic conditions like hypertension, heart failure, diabetes, COPD, asthma, dementia, and mental health disorders whether they’re at home, at work, in transit, or on vacation.
When you’re regularly telling them how to follow your instructions, they become more comfortable following each step in their care plan and getting in touch so you can analyze them in real-time via telehealth appointments. One of the most impactful benefits of remote patient monitoring is that it expands the functionalities of Care Management — a critical tool for successful compliance — and nurtures patient-provider relationships. This promotes more thorough, efficient, relaxed, and intimate communication.
Most early adopters of RPM devices were hospitals and home health organizations that prioritized reducing readmissions. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that in 2020, readmissions cost U.S. hospitals $563 million. And under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), they stand to lose up to 3% of Medicare reimbursements due to readmission rates.
In a clinical trial with Christus Health, remote patient monitoring helped reduce hospital readmissions by 65% among congestive heart failure patients.
Remote patient monitoring devices collect biometric data, including the following examples.
- Wearable mobile devices
Wearable technology like smartwatches using cloud-based device configuration tools allows clinicians to customize the watch to be a dedicated RPM device. Sensors in the watch gather biometric data and transmit it to a platform, which streamlines the information for healthcare providers to interpret. A study conducted by Preventice found the watch could reduce a significant percentage of unnecessary emergency room visits and outpatient visits.
- Patch-based sensors
An example of a patch-based sensor is VitalPatch, an FDA-approved wearable biosensor that continuously gathers 8 types of biometric data — from electrocardiogram and heart rate to body posture and activity levels. This is one of many RPM devices that stream data to the patient’s smartphone and then to a platform clinicians can access at any time. At Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts, these sensors helped reduce hospitalization costs by 52% and improved patient outcomes.
- Bluetooth biometric devices
Customized RPM devices like Vivify Pathways connect customized tablets and Bluetooth-enabled biometric devices like blood pressure cuffs, weight scales, and glucometers. Patients use these devices to collect data and answer daily health questions on their tablets.
RPM providers offer a variety of collection methods that then securely transmit the patient data to a third-party HIPAA-compliant RPM platform. This platform analyzes the data and delivers it to clinicians via user-friendly dashboards with robust analytics. When they monitor patients between office visits, they can detect concerning trends in real-time and intervene before a patient requires hospitalization.
Alleviating clinician burnout
In the next 12 years, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projects that the U.S. will see a primary care provider shortage of as many as 55,000 practitioners. At the same time, the U.S. is expecting a 10% population growth rate, with the number of people over the age of 65 increasing by 45%. Remote patient monitoring can provide a way to alleviate the care burden on the shrinking clinician population while expanding care access to those who need it most.
For primary care doctors and specialists, RPM devices provide a welcome respite from patient data overload; it’s usually nurses or physician’s assistants who monitor patients until they notice a trend that requires collaboration with the doctor to decide on treatment adjustments. At this point, the doctor becomes much more directly invested in inpatient care. Operating at the top of licensure like this can inspire higher job satisfaction and relieve burnout from more detached logistical tasks.
When clinical pharmacists, medication management specialists, and Population Health teams support primary Care teams through centralized conversations about RPM data, workflows are streamlined and stress is relieved.
Decreasing the number of doctor’s office visits for patients with chronic diseases expands clinicians’ capacity for other types of office visits that require more of their dedicated time and attention. Remote patient monitoring can be done from anywhere, so clinicians can multi-task when needed. They can keep tabs on their most at-risk patients while monitoring and educating patients with chronic conditions from afar.
Healthcare providers who deliver care at a distance with convenient access to patient data are free to care for more patients at a lower cost while also experiencing less burnout. It’s a win-win scenario.
Improving quality of care and health outcomes
Stress exacerbates most chronic and acute conditions. Ideal outcomes are much more difficult to accomplish when both patients and clinicians are stressed because patients miss appointments (lengthening care plan implementation).
Patient-generated data offers valuable insights that care providers wouldn’t otherwise have access to — that means they have more tools to tap when assessing, diagnosing, and prescribing care.
According to a Leading Age white paper, medical professionals especially value remote monitoring in healthcare when delivering geriatric care. Once they’re able to monitor and access patients’ activities and physiological parameters, it becomes easier to discover patterns and craft higher-quality care plans.
Collecting more critical data helps clinicians achieve better health outcomes. They also find that remote monitoring in healthcare allows them to integrate administrative and service tasks with increased efficiency.
When patients are able to collect their own data from wearables and other remote patient monitoring devices, they play a more active role in their care and participate in decision-making. The more a doctor trusts patients to understand their own chronic conditions and treatments, the more patients will trust that doctor’s recommendations — and the more engaged they’ll be in their care. Remote monitoring promotes patient engagement, which leads to better health outcomes and patient satisfaction.
HIMSS reports that 60% of patients say they feel more engaged and empowered to manage their condition when self-generated health data is discussed with clinicians.
Financial benefits of remote patient monitoring
All these clinical benefits for your team will eventually lead to financial gains, which, when measured and presented, will likely win over any resistant stakeholders at your health system. Implementing remote patient monitoring and telehealth can bring these financial benefits:
Reducing chronic condition care costs
According to the CDC, the U.S. spends over $3.5 trillion treating chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, asthma, COPD, and a spectrum of mental health conditions.
You’re also cutting costs for your practice.
Studies conducted across the country are showing that treatment efficacy improves for a variety of conditions when patients enjoy the benefits of remote monitoring. mHealthIntelligence published the results of a year-long study on patients with heart failure that credited remote patient monitoring with saving more than $8,000 per patient and reducing hospitalizations by more than 30%.
A free blood pressure cuff and access to a remote monitoring portal cut one-week postpartum visits for 57% of new mothers, according to a HIMSS reviewed study. These women were able to avoid the one-week postpartum visit for a blood pressure check and 88% of them have returned for the 6-week postpartum visit, compared with 30–40% of women who return for it nationally. By engaging and educating new mothers about their disease, this program helps save time, stress, and money for both patients and providers.
Mathematica Policy Research found that the average rate of growth in estimated Medicare per-beneficiary-per-month (PBPM) expenditures for remote Care Management beneficiaries relative to the comparison beneficiaries decreased by $74 in an 18-month follow-up period.
Medicare RMP reimbursement
Most private insurance companies eventually follow Medicare’s lead when it comes to coverage standards. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have expanded reimbursement for remote patient monitoring for both Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans.
For clinicians in many specialties, this form of virtual care is one of the more lucrative Medicare Care Management programs. Patients should expect copays until they meet their deductible, after which remote patient monitoring is covered at 80%. Beneficiaries can expect to pay an average of $25 per month (drastically lower than an office visit for the same service).
During the pandemic, CMS covers remote patient monitoring for established and new patients who provide explicit consent to receive virtual care. The agency is considering maintaining this coverage flexibility. To fully reap the benefits of remote patient monitoring for both acute and chronic conditions, the healthcare industry will require reimbursement reform.
Help your team enjoy the benefits of remote patient monitoring
These exciting health tech innovations may require educating and training your Care team clinicians and administrators about the benefits of remote patient monitoring and telehealth in general. To learn about how they can improve your team’s workflows and job satisfaction, read our Definitive Guide to Remote Patient Monitoring.