RPM has potential to reduce costs and workload, but reimbursement and ease of use obstacles remain
For years, my mother-in-law was cared for in the comfort of her own home. That’s when I witnessed first-hand (and in frustration) the myriad challenges that remote patient monitoring (RPM) could have easily remedied.
I also watched an 80-year-old with a 30-year history of diabetes no longer need insulin after managing her own A1C levels simply with the help of a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). So I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks after all!
With the rapid advances in RPM, health care providers are coming to the same conclusions for themselves and their patients. They’re finding that this technology offers improvements in the forms of better patient outcomes, lower costs, and the ability to deliver more personalized and patient-centric care, all while reducing workloads.
Thankfully, the health care industry at large is also catching onto these critical benefits. In fact, with the help of large-scale investments that have been steadily rolling in, the RPM market is slated to have a compound annual growth rate of 3.3% over the next decade.
Of course, as with any developing technology, RPM comes with its own unique set of obstacles, from reimbursement and billing challenges to technical glitches and patient adherence. However, because of how greatly the benefits outweigh the limitations, we can’t afford not to confront these issues head-on.
What health care challenges can RPM solve?
Until recently, in order to diagnose patients or gain an in-depth understanding of their health status, medical professionals had to rely on testing (often of the stand-alone variety) or self-reported medical history. The problem is that the accuracy of these methods is dependent on a patient’s memory and on the state of their health at the time of testing.
Now, with a standard consumer wearable such as a smartwatch, used in conjunction with scientifically validated mobile app platforms, patients’ vital signs (such as heart rate, blood pressure, and ECGs) can be collected and sent to health care providers in real time. This allows clinicians to observe a patient’s health status from afar, and to promptly suggest necessary interventions or adjust medications as needed.
This technology can also help to reduce workloads for health care providers, whose job demands have become especially demanding since the Covid-19 pandemic. While hospitals have been quite literally overflowing (specifically during the peak of the pandemic) RPM has the potential to prevent that same crisis from occurring in the future. When clinicians can observe patients’ health remotely, they can more accurately determine if hospitalization is necessary, preventing overcapacity in hospitals and unnecessary burnout in health care workers.
Providing more personalized health care and increasing patient engagement also becomes easier using RPM. With a constant inflow of real-time patient data, clinicians can, under certain circumstances, recommend relevant health care practices, prescribe medications, and make informed decisions regarding post-operative care without the need for an in-office visit. They can also prioritize their focus based on patients’ risk levels, which can be determined through their RPM platform.
In addition to more fine-tuned patient care, RPM technology helps to reduce health care costs. It does so by alerting patients and health care providers when an issue is arising or projected to occur, allowing for timely interventions that prevent otherwise costly health challenges. In the same way, remote patient monitoring helps to lower hospital readmission rates and unnecessary emergency visits, easing financial burdens.
What are the challenges in implementing RPM?
I’ve seen time and again where technological challenges present significant roadblocks for industries. They prevent businesses from applying novel innovations that would ultimately benefit them and improve their quality of care.
The same goes for implementing RPM programs. Doctors are busy, and learning any new technology can be a daunting task. Because of this, there ought to be a direct focus among tech companies on creating simple mobile applications for RPM programs.
Another challenge is that accurate RPM depends on a patient’s ability or willingness to actively participate in the program. It’s not uncommon that a patient forgets to wear or charge their device, leaving gaps in data. Or they simply may not know how to use a device or an app properly. All of which compromises the success of the RPM program.
Doctors may also find themselves overwhelmed by the vast quantities of data constantly rolling in. Raw or vague data points can be difficult, if not impossible, to interpret—especially when providers are having to remotely monitor multiple patients, in addition to their usual in-person visits.
Finally, reimbursement for RPM services can create implementation obstacles. Medicare and other insurance agencies have specific requirements for patients to be eligible for an RPM program. For instance, certain conditions, such as heart failure, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may qualify for reimbursement, while others don’t. And, with this being a newly developing technology, there may not be adequate knowledge or resources readily available for health care providers to properly navigate these payer mandates.
How can tech companies encourage RPM adoption?
With technical challenges being a significant obstacle to more widespread RPM adoption, tech companies have the ability (and even the responsibility) to create platforms that are both simple and intuitive to use.
For one, RPM platforms should integrate with hospital EHRs. This will significantly improve care coordination and can decrease administrative workloads (such as tedious filing and data entry). Tech companies should also focus on offering training and support for integrating these platforms into new practices to ensure that health care providers are comfortable with the product.
Automated data analytics and reporting within the mobile platforms is another important facet to be considered. By eliminating the need interpret the data themselves, health care providers can make informed decisions based on the crunched data. This saves them time while also improving health outcomes for their patients.
RPM offers benefits for medical practices of all sizes
Because RPM helps reduce health care costs and provider workloads while improving patient engagement and health outcomes, the playing field has become more leveled. Now smaller, private medical practices can offer the same high-level services as large organizations without committing to an overwhelming investment. Smaller practices can then take on more clients without adding to their task volume, aiding their ability to remain independent.
As tech companies continue improving their platforms, and health care providers better understand the benefits of applying this technology to their practices, we’ll undoubtedly find rapid progress in the quality of global health care.
David Smith is president at ilumivu, which provides health care decision support applications using real-time data from smartphones and standard smartwatches.