History of Remote Patient Monitoring: How It Began & Where It's Going

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by Adam Paul

It's no secret that technology has vastly improved healthcare. In just the past few years, we've seen telehealth essentially transform the delivery of care. From increased access and improved patient outcomes to reductions in care costs, telehealth technology like remote patient monitoring (RPM) is driving healthcare evolution, helping practitioners improve the ways in which we interact with patients every day. Thanks to the ingenuity and creativity of technology thought leaders and innovators, we can now reach more people than ever before, including previously difficult to access rural patients, and do so more effectively and efficiently.

The Rapid Rise of Remote Patient Monitoring

It's expected that 30 million U.S. patients will have used some sort of remote patient monitoring tool or device by the year 2024. By the year 2027, the global market for RPM systems is expected to be worth more than $1.7 billion.

The concept of remote patient monitoring has taken hold, and it's obvious that it's here to stay, but how exactly did we get to this point so quickly? To many patients, it might seem like telehealth technology such as remote patient monitoring was only deployed in response to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. In reality, remote patient care has been in the making for nearly 150 years.

Technically, remote patient monitoring is just a single rung of the much broader telehealth ladder. RPM uses specific technology that can transmit data electronically via internet, Wi-Fi, and/or Bluetooth between patients and providers. As foreseen by this 1924 image from Radio News Magazine, our current technology has been following an almost prophetic path through history, working its way to this pivotal point in time where we can now see and treat our patients or consult with other experts from nearly anywhere and at any time.

Historical Timeline of Events Leading to Remote Patient Monitoring

So, how did RPM get here? Here are some of the most important developments and milestones from the past nearly 150 years.

  • March 7, 1876 — Alexander Graham Bell is granted his first patent for the telephone. Little did he know that his invention would be a catalyst, laying the early groundwork for us to communicate with anyone, anywhere.
  • Early 1900s — Lacking the infrastructure to bring about widespread telephone adoption, the use of radio communication is developed and expanded.
  • 1948 — The concept of telehealth is officially put into action when physicians in West Chester, Pa., send radiology images 24 miles over a telephone line for review and consultation with another physician in Philadelphia.
  • 1959 — Doctors began to normalize and rely on the telehealth concept by transmitting neurological exams for consultation.
  • 1960 — Psychiatrists begin transmitting psychiatric consultations via closed-circuit television.
  • May 1961 — Remote patient monitoring is born when Alan Shepard, the first American in space, is monitored while in flight. NASA monitors his health from afar using early EKG technology, a thermometer, and a respiration sensor in his microphone. Not only can he talk to Earth, but he also transmits biologic data. Proceeding orbital flights were met with a few health technology hang-ups, but on the last two Mercury missions, blood pressure data is transmitted back to earth seamlessly.
  • 1967 — Health professionals start sending EKGs over telephone wires.
  • 1970s — The first official remote patient monitoring program for Earthside patients is developed and deployed at the Papago Indian Reservation in Arizona. Riddled with complications, the program is discontinued in 1977 by program sponsors. However, the program isn't a total waste of resources: NASA is able to successfully use some of the gained knowledge in its space technology program.
  • 1980 — Health professionals normalize transmitting x-ray images.
  • 1982 — The first wearable biometric sports watch is introduced for use by athletes. This watch uses basic EKG technology that incorporates a radio chest strap to measure heart rate and activity.
  • April 30, 1993 — The first official web browser was launched.
  • 1999 — Wireless internet is released to the public under the name Apple Airport. Windows-based Wi-Fi follows shortly after, with a Wi-Fi router released in 2001.
  • 2000 — While the short-range communication technology that would become known as Bluetooth can be traced back to the 1990s, the first official Bluetooth product is released this year.
  • Early 2000s — We start to replace dial-up internet with faster, more convenient broadband internet. By 2007, half of all internet users are connected to broadband.
  • 2019 — Changes to CPT codes make RPM one of the most lucrative Medicare care management programs, but adoption is still slow.
  • 2020 — The COVID-19 pandemic is here. It's the big "eureka" moment the healthcare industry needs to encourage widespread deployment of telehealth and a rapid rise in the usage of remote patient monitoring technology. The federal government and private payers expand coverage of RPM, further fueling adoption. A survey shows that more than 23 million U.S. patients use RPM services and tools in 2020.
  • 2022 — Despite growing recognition of and appreciation for remote patient monitoring, a Medical Group Management Association poll reveals that just 25% of practices offer RPM. Tremendous opportunities exist for practitioners to launch and grow RPM programs.

Future of Remote Patient Monitoring 

We have a good thing going with remote patient monitoring, and like a fine wine, it will only get better with time. The entries in this timeline helped to point technology in the right direction, leading us to the here and now. We might not be anywhere near ready for the time of the Jetsons where cars fly and robots provide our daily care, but what we can do right now is still pretty great. While there's no crystal ball to predict where exactly remote patient monitoring will be 50 years from now, we can anticipate that it will be even bigger and better, improving healthcare access and outcomes while still reducing costs for all.

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