Remote patient monitoring (RPM) is changing the healthcare system. It’s making the lives of patients and physicians a lot easier. Why? You may ask. This is because traditionally in order to get medical advice, treatment, or monitoring of vital health signs you had to travel to your physician. Nowadays remote patient monitoring has simplified that task by having medical connected devices transmit certain health stats directly from the patient to the healthcare professional from the comfort of their own home.
This technology has advanced the healthcare system. Physicians who embrace remote patient monitoring and RPM devices allow themselves to deliver overall more effective care to their patients. It is by no means a new way of working for the healthcare sector but it has especially gained popularity and relevance after the covid pandemic as it was a useful tool in social distancing efforts. There are a variety of symptoms and conditions that can be tracked and transmitted through remote patient monitoring devices, such as: high blood pressure, diabetes (glucose levels), sleep apnea, weight loss or gain, heart conditions (heart rate), and asthma among others.
In this post we will explore the following topics:
- What is the remote patient monitoring definition?
- How does a RPM system work?
- Benefits of RPM for patients and physicians
- Common remote patient monitoring devices
- Difference between RPM and telehealth
- Popular RPM companies
What is Remote Patient Monitoring?
The remote patient monitoring definition could be stated as a monitoring system that entails the use of connected rpm devices to record personal health and medical data from the patient while they are in one location (usually their home) and later that data is reviewed by a physician at a different location (usually a clinical setting). The data could be, although not necessarily has to, be viewed as soon as it is transmitted. RPM can be used to treat and manage both chronic and acute conditions or symptoms. This is done so by enabling physicians to keep tabs on their patients in between clinic visits or when in-person care is not feasible.
Why is it important? It’s important because this kind of monitoring allows healthcare providers to monitor their patient once he or she leaves the healthcare setting, which widens the continuity of care, mitigates risks, and empowers the patient to take control of their own health. This way, patients are at ease that they are still within the range of care of their healthcare provider, and it allows healthcare facilities to reduce repeat in person visits when they aren’t strictly necessary. This can be cataloged as a win for everybody.
For chronic care particularly, RPM allows physicians to observe and monitor patients in near real time, they can gather the necessary data, and also make adjustments to improve the patient’s care outcomes. This type of ongoing health or symptom tracking is helpful for patients with long term care needs, such as those with heart conditions, diabetes, asthma, hypertension, or mental illness.
As we can see, the remote patient monitoring definition can look differently but overall it is essentially the real time health data captured from the patient and transmitted to their physician, allowing for a remote assessment of their condition or symptoms.
How does a RPM system work?
Above we defined remote patient monitoring as the process of monitoring patients, through connected health devices, remotely from their homes. It’s important to clearly define how the rpm system works. First of all it is crucial that the physician explain to the patient why they are prescribing at home remote monitoring and assure them that just because they aren’t physically in the clinic or hospital doesn’t mean they aren’t being continuously monitored.
There are many ways that physicians can share this information with their patients. They could schedule an initial telehealth appointment before the patient begins using the device in order to guide them how to use it. Later they could schedule a follow up appointment after they’ve been using the device for a while to see if they continue using it correctly and to calm any other fears they may have. It’s also useful if they provide them with a document that explains what remote patient monitoring is, how to use the device they were prescribed and how they or their symptoms are being monitored through it.
The process can look something like these steps:
- The physician has to assess the patient and determine if they are suitable to be part of a remote patient monitoring program.
- The healthcare provider later offers this service, they receive permission from the patient, and they prescribe RPM to the patient.
- The patient is later provided with an RPM device suited to their condition to collect the necessary information and other health data. The device is usually connected either via Bluetooth or cellular network.
- The patient wears their device at home and the data it tracks such as weight, glucose levels or blood pressure is continuously recorded.
- The device transmits the health data recorded to the physician for them to monitor and track.
- The physician examines the data received from the device and after that can provide the patient with insights on their health and wellbeing.
Benefits of RPM
There are so many ways that remote patient monitoring is able to help patients with chronic conditions, acute conditions, and pregnancies, among many others.
Some of these benefits include:
- Fewer hospitalizations
- Shorter stays in the hospital if the patient is able to be discharged with rpm devices they can use at home
- Reduced visits to emergency rooms
- Better care options for patients that are in rural areas
- Better preventative care for long term conditions
There was a study conducted by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) and of the people surveyed the most cited benefits of remote patient monitoring were: they have more detailed information of their health, usually quicker access to health services, they feel greater ownership of their own health and wellbeing.
The benefits of remote patient monitoring for physicians include things such as: easier access to the patient’s data, better management of patients with chronic conditions, lower costs and an increase of efficiencies.
Remote patient monitoring also helps reduce overall healthcare costs on both the patient’s and the provider’s side. Patients with chronic conditions usually have frequent visits to their healthcare provider to monitor their vitals. By not having the patient traveling to in person visits they are already saving money and time. Remote patient monitoring is also more efficient than other traditional types of monitoring which helps healthcare providers lower costs.
Common Remote Patient Monitoring Devices
RPM systems use various types of medical connected devices to monitor patient symptoms and conditions. Some of these devices can be:
- Smart scales: These are connected scales that can track different information about the patient such as: muscle mass, body fat percentage, resting heart rate, bone density, and water percentage. This is useful in order to provide them with more details about their health.
- Oxygen levels: these are used to measure blood sat levels to see how much oxygen your blood is carrying. It is usually measured with a pulse oximeter device which is the fastest and simplest way to receive this vital information.
- Blood glucose meters: testing a patient’s blood sugar levels is one of the best ways to monitor diabetes. This is especially useful to see how certain activities, medications and foods affect their blood sugar levels. Keeping track of their blood glucose is the best way for the patient and physician to manage the condition. The most popular are continuous glucose monitors (CGM) which are tiny sensors that are inserted on the stomach or arm. They test and measure glucose every few minutes and that info is sent usually to an app on the patient’s smartphone. This allows for the patient to be monitored 24 hours per day.
- Blood pressure monitors: These are cuffs that are placed on the patient’s arm and they transmit blood pressure readings. They are used to manage hypertension. Through this type of remote patient monitoring, physicians can receive an alert when the patient’s blood pressure readings move out of the ideal range, they can evaluate this situation, and later communicate their thoughts on what to do to make sure the patient’s blood pressure is back under control.
- Heart monitors: There are many devices used for RPM of cardiovascular conditions. They record heart stats and can help reduce blood pressure and help detect arrhythmias early on in order to enable quicker interventions.
- Specialized monitors for dementia and Parkinson's disease.
Difference between RPM and telehealth
It is very important to understand the difference between remote patient monitoring and telehealth services in order to fully understand how RPM works. You might be wondering, are remote patient monitoring and telehealth the same thing? Remote patient monitoring and telehealth are concepts that have both been confused with one another. Here’s a quick look at their definitions.
As we stated above, remote patient monitoring specifically involves the use of a device that collects and tracks symptoms for the ongoing real time interaction between the patient and healthcare provider. They are used for collecting, reporting and transmitting that health data remotely through connected health devices. Meanwhile telehealth as a term is very broad, it encompasses any and all care that a healthcare provider or physician provides that isn’t an in person clinic visit. It basically means any way of virtually connecting the physician and patient. Telehealth encompasses remote patient monitoring, it is a very specific kind of telehealth that entails the use of a device to collect and transmit crucial health data from a patient to the healthcare provider.
Telehealth services had very obvious benefits during the pandemic, they enabled the delivery of healthcare during lockdown. The main benefit it provides is convenience. For those who have a very busy schedule a telehealth visit offers so much convenience. The fact that you save time by not having to travel and wait in a waiting room prior to the appointment is a game changer for many people. It also provides a great benefit to those who possess a disability. It can for example work with closed captioning for those who are hard of hearing, or even provide video relay service. There are also other services to assist with vision or speech disabilities. It also helps bridge the gap between quality healthcare and rural areas. People who reside in rural areas are more likely to die prematurely from respiratory issues, cancer, heart disease, injuries, and/or even stroke because they don’t have access to the necessary care. Telehealth is helping mend this gap in the healthcare industry.
Popular Remote Patient Monitoring companies
As healthcare providers start to turn to remote patient monitoring services to improve the quality of the care they provide, companies rise to provide the necessary connected health devices for this growing market. These devices consist of mobile technologies that amplify the patient provider relationship far beyond the traditional clinical setting. As we stated above it helps them keep an eye on and track chronic illnesses and helps consumers have more insights on their own wellbeing.
These companies supply all kinds of medical connected devices such as: continuous glucose monitors (CGM) which help diabetic patients keep their glucose levels on track, or smartwatches that transmit users’ health data to their physicians.
Some of the most popular ones are:
- Philips Healthcare
Overall remote patient monitoring helps improve patient outcomes and aids in cutting healthcare costs. Telehealth, which includes RPM, is here to stay and will more than likely continue to grow and evolve as time goes by and consumers grow increasingly comfortable with telehealth services. As we saw the remote patient monitoring definition can look like many things but is essentially real time health data that is captured from the patient and simultaneously transmitted to their physician.
Healthcare providers who don’t offer remote patient monitoring services to their patients need to reconsider and do so otherwise they risk their patients jumping ship to another provider.