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Remote Patient Monitoring: A Definitive Guide

Imagine your patient calmly sipping coffee in her backyard while her smartphone and wearables report her blood sugar levels, dietary intake, and vital signs to your care team.

That’s remote patient monitoring (RPM) and chronic care management at its finest—no traffic, crowded waiting room, or exam table to climb onto. The verdict has been out for decades—stress exacerbates most chronic diseases like diabetes, congestive heart failure, kidney disease, and Alzheimer’s. High-risk patients and stressed-out care teams seldom achieve ideal outcomes.

Monitoring devices have enabled healthcare systems to provide virtual care that makes for relaxed, engaged patients, while real-time health data is transferred to healthcare providers. And in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically sped up the adoption of remote patient monitoring technologies in healthcare organizations of every size and specialty.

RPM can relieve some of the logistics-based headaches that come with the healthcare profession, making your processes more efficient and your outcomes more obtainable. Whether it’s for monitoring diabetes or reducing the risk of visual impairment, research shows RPM works.

This guide will help you implement remote patient monitoring in your practice to make life easier for your care teams while improving patient engagement and outcomes.

What is remote patient monitoring?

Remote patient monitoring is a method of managing acute or chronic conditions via RPM technology while securely collecting and exchanging patient data.

RPM enables you to monitor patients in their own homes, at work, in transit, or even on vacation, using monitoring devices like:

  • Glucose meters for diabetes management
  • Heart rate monitors to manage congestive heart failure
  • Blood pressure cuffs to measure blood pressure
  • Oximeters to measure blood oxygen levels
  • Continuous dementia surveillance monitors
  • Calorie logging programs
  • Exercise logging programs
  • Musculoskeletal risk stratification software
  • Grip strength sensors to manage Parkinson’s disease

These easy-to-use RPM devices enable virtual care management by gathering and analyzing health data to streamline high-risk patient care and quickly determine whether their condition is stabilized, deteriorating, or improving.

Years of studies have demonstrated that remote patient monitoring is one of the most effective ways to manage chronic diseases like diabetes, heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) while increasing patient engagement and reducing Emergency Department readmissions.

Americans across all age groups—including seniors—are already using smartphones and tablets, which often resemble RPM devices. A quality platform makes leveraging RPM technology easy, comfortable, and empowering—it bridges the space between healthcare settings and patients’ living environments so they can partake in their own healthcare delivery. The better they understand their care, the less confused they’ll be when interacting with their payers.

How does remote patient monitoring differ from telehealth?

The term “telehealth” (or “telemedicine”) describes an entire industry—all technological innovations that enable healthcare providers to deliver care to patients remotely. You can deliver telehealth services via phone, video conference, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, as well as Remote Patient Monitoring platforms.

When you use technology to facilitate interaction between clinicians in the office and patients in the home, you’re using RPM—just one option in the diverse telehealth delivery landscape.

So, if you’re using RPM, you’re already practicing telehealth. If you have additional needs, you can use other telehealth tools that gather and exchange shared health data synergistically with RPM.

Benefits of effective remote patient monitoring

Remote patient monitoring brings real-time patient data to your fingertips, 24/7. It’s easy for you and your clinicians to use, and it enables the delivery of higher-quality care to a larger number of patients. This means less burnout, higher efficiency—and in the end—lower costs.

When patients can check their vital signs or perform their own hemodialysis, heart rate tracking, or glucose monitoring with your remote guidance, they are likely to reduce costs by minimizing emergency room visits, shortening hospital stays, and preventing readmissions.

By communicating consistently with them and teaching them how to follow their care plan, you can increase their care access and comfort while cutting costs for your practice.

These five benefits of RPM can lead to better outcomes for your patients.

Access to care

For many patients, getting to a doctor’s appointment is a full-day affair and requires taking precious time off from work. Others have no personal transportation or no convenient access to public transportation. Parents often lack childcare and may dread taking a toddler to a bustling medical facility. Under these circumstances, patients might feel that going to an appointment is just not worth it.

In rural regions, access to care is limited, and attending an appointment may require traveling to a different county—or in certain conditions, even a different state.

Remote patient monitoring solves these accessibility limitations for a wide range of patients in much less time and at a lower cost.

Quality of care

RPM technology enables you to access your patients instantly—right at the moment they’re experiencing pain, confusion, or treatment struggles. While your patients share health data and symptoms from the comfort of their desks, you can be sharing instructions from the comfort of yours.

Common medical routines become more efficient and less stressful when patients are communicating regularly with their whole care team. RPM also helps save time and energy, enabling clinicians to care for each patient more calmly—which reduces your staff’s burnout rate.

Patient engagement

RPM can’t succeed if patients don’t use it. In order to develop self-monitoring habits, patients need to perceive them as useful. Witnessing the improvement of other patients with similar conditions will often help engage your patient as much as any formal instructions can.

Another way to get your patients excited about monitoring is to be proactive. Check in often and point out even slight improvements while offering constant encouragement and positive feedback. How frequently should you interact? That depends on the patient—observing each personality and each condition’s severity will guide you to a custom protocol.

Patient education

When they’re not scrambling to and from appointments, looking for childcare, or juggling PTO at work, your patients can afford to really focus on what you’re saying—and what you’re asking them to do with all that health data they’ve gathered.

Education about their chronic conditions leads to better patient engagement, followed by better outcomes. For example, clinical trials reviewed in the Sage Journal found that RPM effectively manages chronic heart failure by promoting rapid intervention.

Patients might be more motivated to learn about their condition after having an ongoing conversation (not a 5-minute quick chat) with a provider who’s been with them on their healing journey from day one. A highly-educated medical professional who confirms or questions the efficacy of a particular treatment, or recommends alternatives can stimulate curiosity and inspire exploration of new options.

Educated, engaged patients enable better healthcare delivery for healthcare organizations of all sizes and specialties. According to mHealthIntelligence, hospitals report that remote patient monitoring yields high ROIs.

Healthcare IT News reports that by streamlining workflows, remote patient monitoring devices promote cost savings for healthcare organizations.

Support

Knowing they can speak with you or watch you demonstrate how to use a monitoring device reassures patients that someone is always watching out for them. They feel consistently supported when their care team troubleshoots until their chronic conditions are stabilized.

Reimbursement for remote patient monitoring

The site mHealthIntelligence reports that the 2020 Physician Fee Schedules offers hospitals and health systems extended opportunities to employ remote patient monitoring, paving the way for more telehealth innovations and virtual care programs.

Many more decisions and definitions will need to be established in 2021. According to the Telebehavioral Health Institute, Medicare’s definitions of RPM are expected to set the bar for other payers across the country, which will have huge repercussions for beneficiaries and providers.

To help ensure that your healthcare organization receives appropriate and timely payments for remote patient monitoring and avoids legal issues, keep track of regulations and reimbursement policies on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website.

Implementing remote patient monitoring into Care Management

Healthcare delivery collaboration requires some research and planning to find a quality telehealth platform. You’re likely to enjoy real-time remote monitoring more if you follow these steps:

Identify patient needs

Once you’ve identified a group of patients that would benefit from remote patient monitoring, it’s a good idea to segment them by chronic diseases or ailments (if relevant to your healthcare organization). Separating high-risk patients from borderline patients who need less frequent remote monitoring will make progress much easier to track, and added value easier to prove.

Healthcare professionals practicing chronic Care Management might recommend a wearable device. Whether it’s a blood sugar monitor for diabetes or a therapeutic cardiac implantable device for congestive heart failure, healthcare delivery becomes more consistent and efficient when communication is continuous.

Acute care patients will only need short-term use, so you can identify them by stages. For example, if surgery is required, you could group them into pre-surgery, post-surgery, and postoperative care. Make sure to include discharge patients who will require rehab in order to avoid readmission.

Determine goals for all stakeholders

What pain points are you looking to alleviate with RPM technology? Collect answers to that question from your executives, staff members, and patients. Their honest, detailed feedback will help all stakeholders focus on a unified purpose and promote long-term stability within your organization.

Start with some baseline metrics, then determine your desired endpoint so you can evaluate results and make data-driven decisions. As you collect health data, implement checkpoints to measure progress and pivot when needed until you arrive at a list of goals that all care team members can embrace—goals that will drive patient engagement.

Choose your Care Management software with great care

Before considering any RPM system, be sure to evaluate all of its operations. Does it allow you to integrate the devices you’re currently using? Does it offer long-term support? Is it user-friendly for all members of your care team and patients?

Ask for referrals and read some case studies. Schedule demonstrations for your clinicians, then gather their feedback.

Make sure the platform features:

  • Platform customization: Be sure you can create a unique environment that works with your existing and future systems — whether the platform provides APIs for custom integrations or comes out of the box with leading platform integrations built-in. Know what your team needs.
  • Device Integration: Ensure your platform can collect and log data from wearables or other devices that your patients may leverage to monitor progress over time.
  • Workflow management: Does your platform automate and streamline your team’s processes? Look for a tool that helps by logging all data directly to the patient profile so you can guide them through each stage of their treatment journey, improving efficiency and lessening team burden.
  • Enhanced communication capabilities: Stay engaged with your customers by looking for a system that supports channels your team needs to use — such as telehealth integration, texting capabilities, or even apps that allow chat.
  • Tracking capabilities: Make sure you have the capability to track activities within your platform as well as relevant RPM billing codes.
  • Scalability: Your program should grow with your organization, enabling your care team to see more patients over time with the same resources, and ensuring your patient:care team ratio does not stagnate.
  • User-friendliness: Reduce care team burnout by providing software that’s going to be easy for your team to use.

If you can check all of the boxes above, you’ve likely found a very valuable tool that both patients and providers will embrace with enthusiasm—and enthusiastic users make for outstanding outcomes.

Deploy your new platform and train all stakeholders

Health systems may take a few months to complete the initial deployment of a new RPM solution for virtual care. You’ll be tweaking and optimizing workflows and setting healthcare delivery standards to make patient care and hospital admissions easier and less frequent.

Document which monitoring system works best and which monitoring devices your patients prefer to ensure patient engagement. Address human resources issues that may come up during implementation and supplement training for those care team members who need it. Always abide by licensing laws when training staff to avoid overburdening them or angering union leaders.

Make sure you have multiple lines of support. At first, you’ll likely hear simple onboarding questions about turning on devices and syncing with tablets. Your RPM vendor may provide a second line of support for more serious challenges. The quality and quantity of onboarding support are critical to a smooth integration process.

Check with Medicare and other payers to track reimbursement regulations and processes. Virtual care via telemedicine is a fairly new innovation. Healthcare systems and legislators will continue to shape monitoring services to improve virtual care for chronic disease management and beyond.

No matter where the chips fall in 2021, healthcare delivery has been forever altered, so healthcare providers in all specialties should prepare to embrace digital health and medical devices that will make their lives easier and improve patient engagement.

Your RPM and telehealth programs’ success requires ongoing, multi-faceted education for both providers and patients. Some people prefer to read health data about conditions and treatments. Others will request video training. Customize education for each patient’s preference and learning style.

The future of remote patient monitoring

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the effectiveness of remote patient monitoring for chronic care management into the spotlight. When patients can share health data and receive video-enabled virtual care from their own homes, they don’t have to fear exposure or infections.

Now that they know smartphones and wearables can replace the equipment traditionally used for healthcare delivery in your office, they likely won’t want to return. Now that they’ve witnessed how remote patient monitoring technologies can prevent emergency department readmissions, they’re likely to embrace even more virtual care innovations.

The benefits for your healthcare organization are just as promising. Becker’s Hospital Review found that for chronic conditions like heart failure, atrial fibrillation, and diabetes, remote patient monitoring:

  • Enhances the quality of patient care
  • Improves clinical efficiency
  • Reduces healthcare costs

Digital health brings real-time patient data to the fingertips of healthcare providers who are implementing chronic care management across health systems and healthcare organizations of all sizes and specialties.

FAQs about remote patient monitoring

Let’s walk through some of the most common questions about this breakthrough trend so you can best determine whether it’s right for you and your organization. We are all about empowering clinicians and program directors to make informed decisions.

How do I get my patients to follow through with RPM?

Motivating patients to embrace RPM usually requires three steps:

  • Educate: make sure you thoroughly demonstrate both the technology and the evidence-based reasons for its use.
  • Activate: ensure patients are able to navigate their devices and understand their role in the care process.
  • Engage: give uplifting feedback in each interaction along with ongoing emotional and informational support.

What makes an RPM program successful?

Success can only be tracked when all patients and clinicians are on board and on the same page—which requires customizing your care. You’re not merely treating a disease, you’re caring for a person. Each one will have a different communication style, as well as physical and emotional needs.

A generic list of questions and answers won’t engage and earn the trust of your diverse body of patients. Actively listen to learn what makes them tick, then respond appropriately. Sharing health data with your patients can prove to them that your RPM works and encourage them to continue using it.

What conditions does RPM help manage most effectively?

Although any acute or chronic diseases can benefit from RPM, these chronic conditions are most common and clinically validated beneficiaries of remote patient monitoring:

  • COPD
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Dementia
  • Post-op follow-ups
  • Fertility management
  • Addiction care
  • Behavioral health

The bottom line

A quality RPM frees up more time and energy for your care team to spend treating your patients. Intrigued? Speak with a Welkin Care Management expert to discover how to empower your care team with remote patient monitoring.

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