Consumers are willing to purchase mobile technology -- such as blood pressure or blood glucose meters -- to monitor their health and wellbeing, according to a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers titled “Healthcare Unwired.” That willingness equates to an estimated consumer market for remote/mobile monitoring devices of between $7.7 billion and $43 billion, according to the study. It also has the potential to significantly impact a medical practice’s bottom line for physicians who actively engage the technology.
“[Remote monitoring devices are] going to improve health outcomes, save millions of dollars in re-hospitalization costs, and improve the potential bottom line of physicians, because they’re able to evaluate the data and make changes by telephony, by text messaging and emailing the patient, and they’re not having to always see the patient in the office, which requires a lot more time,” says Keith Vrbicky, MD, a practicing OB/GYN in Norfolk, Nebraska and founder of American Educational Telecommunications. “We see that in our practice on a daily basis.”
Making Logical Sense
Vrbicky says remote monitoring devices are typically being used to help manage patients with chronic healthcare conditions, such as heart disease, congestive heart failure, renal disease, hypertension and diabetes. Patients can be monitored at their home and the data is sent to the physician practice, where the information can be used by the doctors to potentially identify an early change in their health conditions and make changes immediately rather than waiting for the conditions to deteriorate.
“What we’re seeing is these devices are very valuable in prevention and ongoing treatment of chronic health conditions,” Vrbicky says. “And as a result, that’s helping prevent re-hospitalization, which is one of the leading cost factors in our country.” In addition, he says, the reimbursement methodologies for the providers is changing for the positive, so physicians can be reimbursed for viewing the data and recommending changes, without actually having to see the patient in the office. That’s a huge change as to what has traditionally happened in medicine.”
To illustrate, Vrbicky offers up the following scenario: A physician examines a patient with newly diagnosed hypertension, and then prescribes a blood pressure pill. The old model would be, “Mrs. Jones, you need to come back to the office in two weeks and we’ll recheck your blood pressure to see how you’re doing.” That visit doesn’t necessarily have to happen any more. By sending the patient home with a blood pressure monitor, the patient may either text message or email the data on the blood pressure’s response to the new medication, and the physician can then make any adjustments in the dosage, if necessary, Vrbicky says.
It’s good for the patient in other ways, as well. “Now you’ve engaged patients to actually do things to monitor [their health], and they’re more engaged in their disease and health process,” he says.
Physicians Find Devices Effective
Forty percent of physicians surveyed agree that the use of remote monitoring devices would eliminate up to a third of office visits, according to the PricewaterhouseCoopers study. Physician decision-making might also be enhanced. One-third of physicians surveyed believe that the greatest benefit of mobile devices will be to help them make decisions faster as they access more accurate data in real time.
Ron Pion, MD, an OB/GYN and faculty member at UCLA, offers a unique perspective: Not only is he a practitioner utilizing these mobile devices, he’s a patient as well.
“In a digital world today, everything has changed,” Pion explains. “I have a blood pressure cuff upstairs. I correctly put it on my arm, touch a button, it takes a reading, and that reading is automatically sent to a back-end record of mine, which essentially graphs my blood pressure recording for that week. I tell my wife, since I’m 79 years old, that I don’t have to see a doctor; that I’m in good health. However, I would like a doctor to know about me.”
Vrbicky echoes those thoughts. The use of remote monitoring devices enables physicians to “get back to the art of medicine,” instead of rush through the day trying to see as many patients as possible, he says. “You build relationships with patients; that takes time. And because of what’s happened in healthcare, physicians are not spending or not able to spend the time,” Vrbicky says. “This allows them to get back to that and actually practice the art of medicine.”