Recent technological advances have changed every aspect of how we live our lives. From the photos we snap on our smartphones to the recipes we read off our refrigerators, we feel the impact of smart technology every day. One of the biggest industries being revolutionized by technology, however, is the healthcare industry.
One of the most exciting technological opportunities in the healthcare industry is remote patient monitoring. These devices can give doctors information about patients on a minute-to-minute basis while the patient’s life goes on uninterrupted. Read on to learn more about this exciting technology and the ways it can improve patient care.
Remote patient monitoring (RPM) is an approach that allows doctors to keep up with their patients’ health even outside the office. It uses medical monitoring devices placed on the body to track certain patient vital signs. You might use RPM to track a patient’s heart rate, oxygen levels, temperature, and more.
Even if you don’t realize it, you may already be familiar with some remote patient monitoring devices. FitBits and Apple Watches already perform many of the functions of an RPM device. The only difference is that most people choose to send this information to their phone rather than their doctor.
Remote patient monitoring begins with a device that a patient wears on their body. This device tracks whichever metrics the patient and doctor have decided on, taking readings at specified times. Those readings are then transmitted securely to an online portal.
Once the data is transmitted, monitoring can be either automatic or manually handled – or, in many cases, both. An automated system may send out an alert if a patient’s heart rises dangerously high or if their blood pressure drops suddenly. A physician may also review logs of data to get a better picture of a patient’s hour-to-hour condition.
Telehealth is one of the more exciting areas of medical development, and in many ways, it seems similar to RPM. But the two are different in some important ways.
Telehealth allows patients to have appointments with their doctors from the comfort of their homes. This involves direct interaction with a patient and is a new way to manage traditional medical appointments.
RPM is a method of information gathering that happens throughout the normal course of a patient’s daily life. There is no direct interaction with a doctor, although telehealth may be used to follow up on the results of RPM.
There are a variety of different tools that can be used to manage RPM, depending on the patient’s needs. Some tools help to monitor blood pressure, weight, and glucose levels in pregnant people. Others can collect extremely sensitive cardiac readings over the course of several days.
Some new RPM technologies have emerged in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to help track new cases. These devices can track temperature, heart rate, oxygen saturation, activity, and even posture in both infected and non-infected patients. This information is vital to helping doctors understand more about this virus, its symptoms, and its spread.
One of the primary benefits of RPM is that it can improve patient access to healthcare. Many patients in rural areas have difficulty getting more specialized healthcare. Those services may not be available at all in their area or they may be a prohibitive distance away.
Remote patient monitoring can make it possible for people in rural areas or with demanding schedules to get access to the tests and care they need. A patient can get a sleep study or a cardiac test run without having to travel a long distance or take time off work. These results can then be interpreted by top-quality physicians anywhere in the world.
RPM also makes it possible for doctors to provide better care to their patients. Diagnosing can be tricky because some symptoms may not present consistently, and doctors may have to rely on patient reports. Simple miscommunication or mistrust in the doctor-patient relationship can lead to months or even years of misdiagnosis.
With RPM, doctors can get a clearer idea of what’s going on with patients. Something as small as a temporary arrhythmia can show the difference between two conditions. RPM gives doctors a full picture of patients’ health on an hourly basis, rather than once every few weeks.
In some cases, treatment options for a condition can be risky. There’s no way to know how a patient may react to a medication, and even with safe treatments, unknown allergies can cause dangerous reactions. No physician wants to be in the position of deciding whether it’s a greater risk to the patient’s health to start a treatment or to allow a condition to continue untreated.
RPM can help to lower the danger of risky treatments. Monitoring devices can constantly be on the alert for cardiac problems, dangerous changes in blood pressure, or high fevers. If any of the triggers occur, the device can alert emergency services at once so the patient can get treatment as quickly as possible.
In a medical world that’s always having to move faster to keep up, it can be easy for patients to begin to feel neglected. They may spend ten minutes with a doctor, get a quick diagnosis and treatment plan, and be sent out the door. In these situations, patients may begin to lose trust in their doctors, especially if they’re coming off a traumatic medical experience.
RPM can help to assure patients that their healthcare providers are continuing to look out for their needs even after they leave the office. Their medical team will be alerted if anything drastic happens, and they can continue to receive doctors’ attention even while they’re going about their day-to-day life. This can improve the doctor-patient relationship, as well as the overall patient experience.
The days of a doctor telling a patient what treatment they need and a patient going home and blindly following those orders are over. Doctors have come to understand that patients are an important part of the team and that they should be involved in the care plan. And while many patients have begun to advocate for their own healthcare, there are patient education concerns that must be overcome in order for the patient to have the best outcome.
Remote patient monitoring devices can help improve patient education to further empower them. A patient may be able to see for themselves how certain lifestyle factors affect their condition, as well as how things like their heart rate or their oxygenation levels change throughout the day. The more patients understand about how a condition is affecting their life, the better they can work with their healthcare team to manage it.
Many doctors also struggle with patient engagement. A patient who can’t see the effects of a condition on their life may not be motivated to follow a difficult treatment plan. They may not see themselves as having an important role to play in their healthcare.
RPM makes it possible for patients to see the day-to-day repercussions of their lifestyle choices. Because the patient can see how their body is reacting to their decisions, they can begin to understand how important their role is in managing their health. It’s a lot easier to be engaged with your treatment plan if you have a reminder about it on your body all the time.
One of the biggest responsibilities patients have is giving their doctors accurate feedback about how their treatment plan is affecting them. But too often, this line of communication breaks down for any of a variety of reasons. A patient may feel bad about “cheating” on a treatment plan and so may not be truthful with their doctor, or they may simply not be trained to look for the subtle signs that doctors know indicate much larger issues.
With an RPM device, the lines of communication for patient feedback become much stronger. For one thing, the doctor has specific documentation of every tiny change in the patient’s condition. But for another, patients may find it easier to recount certain triggers if their doctor already knows about their impact.
Healthcare providers are always looking for ways to provide greater support for their patients. And it’s a tough line to walk. While doctors want to give every one of their patients all the time they need, there are only twenty-four hours in a day, and not every concern may be able to be met.
RPM can help doctors give patients support when they need it most. Knowing about certain health events when they happen can let a doctor know that they need to call and check in on a patient. Instead of having to check in on every single patient on a more frequent basis, doctors can better utilize their time to reach out to patients during their times of greatest need.
Patient privacy has always been a priority in medical care, but maintaining that privacy becomes more challenging day by day. As our data moves online, it becomes easier for hackers and viruses to break in and steal private information. And as you might imagine, RPM devices pose a special concern to those looking to protect patient privacy.
RPM devices are held to the highest standards of data security and must meet all HIPAA compliance regulations. Before a device is put into practice, it must be able to demonstrate that it is capable of protecting confidential patient information. And even with these regulations in place, patients who will be wearing RPM devices must sign a waiver stating that they have been informed of the privacy risks and protocols associated with the device.
RPM devices pose a unique challenge for data management even aside from security concerns. Artificial intelligence has great promise for helping to automate everything from diagnoses to medical alerts in the healthcare field. But some adjustments will be needed to make artificial intelligence work with these programs.
You can’t set a static range of acceptable parameters for a given vital sign because every person is different. A heart rate of 100 bpm in a person with a normal heart rate of 90 bpm is very different than in a person with a normal heart rate of 70. A monitoring device needs to be able to make those distinctions.
The other challenge RPM poses for data management is how often to transmit data. These devices are capable of transmitting up to dozens of readings a second if required. But that much data will become overwhelming as doctors try to interpret changes in a patient’s condition.
Instead, a doctor must decide how often they need to get readings from these devices. For a subtle cardiac condition, a doctor may need a reading once or twice a second. But for factors that change over a longer arc, such as weight and blood sugar, doctors may only need readings a couple of times a day.
One of the major questions healthcare providers and insurance companies are still working out with RPM is how reimbursement for it should work. On one hand, patients are not receiving direct doctor interaction while wearing an RPM device. But on the other hand, they are receiving medical care, even if it’s on a remote basis.
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has ruled that RPM does count as a part of medical care for billing purposes. While this means patients will be billed for these services, it also means at least some health insurance providers will reimburse them. This variety of treatment has even received its own code in the CMS system – 99457 and 99458.
Remote patient monitoring is an exciting prospect in the future of healthcare. It has the potential to improve everything from patient experience to health outcomes. This new technology still has some challenges that must be resolved, but healthcare providers can count on seeing this as a growing option for patient treatment in the future.
If you’d like to learn about more amazing opportunities for healthcare providers, check out the rest of our site at Hospital Careers. We can connect you with opportunities and employers that will help you both better care for your patients and advance your career. Sign up today and start finding jobs that care as much as you do.