Even before COVID-19 quarantined us to our homes, the concept of telehealth was quietly gaining the traction and attention it rightfully deserves. Then the pandemic hit and suddenly it seemed like telehealth was everywhere. One form of telehealth that has emerged as a service valued by patients and doctors is remote patient monitoring, sometimes referred to as "RPM."
While not an end-all, be-all solution or replacement for in-person healthcare, remote patient monitoring is becoming a service increasingly used by doctors to promote patient health and wellness while also decreasing the overall costs of treating troublesome chronic diseases.
What is Remote Patient Monitoring?
What does remote patient monitoring mean for you as a patient? In a nutshell, if you are part of your doctor's remote patient monitoring program, this means that your doctor and their team will virtually monitor your vital information, which should help reduce the number of trips you need to make to your doctor's office. To accomplish this virtual monitoring, you will be provided with a "smart" digital device that will track the information your doctor needs.
In all, the process should be fairly simple for you, with the benefits of remote patient monitoring far outweighing what little inconvenience there might be. The ongoing care provided via remote patient monitoring can help keep acute exacerbations of your chronic disease at bay; free up time that would have been spent traveling to and from the doctor's office and the time spent there; and help keep your money in your wallet.
To help you further understand the concept of remote patient monitoring, the Center for Connected Health Policy defines it as follows: "Remote patient monitoring uses digital technologies to collect medical and other forms of health data from individuals in one location and electronically transmit that information securely to healthcare providers in a different location for assessment and recommendations."
What to Expect From Remote Patient Monitoring
Your doctor's remote patient monitoring program should be able to capture a variety of health data depending on your diagnosis and health-related needs. For example, patients who need to keep a close watch on their blood sugar levels can be set up with a glucometer, which is a device that measures and automatically reports blood sugar readings directly to their doctor. Since the transmission of this data happens in real time, your doctor can make quick decisions regarding corrections or changes to your treatment plan, such as a medication change. This should help avoid a potential health crisis.
Sometimes a doctor may recommend patients use multiple remote patient monitoring devices. A patient who has been diagnosed with heart failure might receive both a blood pressure monitor and a weight scale to measure their blood pressure and fluctuations in weight which could indicate increasing fluid retention and looming health troubles.
How Remote Patient Monitoring Works
If your doctor has recommended that you start remote patient monitoring, they will submit an order for you to receive a home digital device. Once the device is set up, the device will connect electronically to remote patient monitoring software used by your doctor's office. The connection will occur via cellular, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi technology.
Some remote patient monitoring devices are worn throughout the day and automatically take vitals readings at pre-defined intervals. For other devices, you will use the device at scheduled intervals to measure your health information, such as your blood pressure or blood sugar level, and then the device will send those results directly to your doctor's remote patient monitoring software. Your doctor and healthcare team can then evaluate the information received by the software and make quick and informed medical decisions regarding your care.
Remote Patient Monitoring Device Setup
Once it's been determined that you are eligible for remote patient monitoring and that RPM will help you and your doctor accomplish your health goals, you will be provided a digital device to track your health information. Using the device may be as easy as plugging it in or inserting batteries and powering the device on.
Depending on how your doctor's remote patient monitoring program is set up, you may be given your RPM device while in the office for an appointment. Some doctors can choose to have the device shipped directly to the patient from the supplier. In either case, you should be provided with easy-to-follow setup directions and understand what you can do if you have setup questions or need help with troubleshooting.
Depending on the type of device and the manufacture, some remote patient monitoring devices will require access to Wi-Fi, a smartphone, or a personal computer while other devices can connect directly to a cellular network. It is important to discuss whether you have adequate access to the technology required for your remote patient monitoring device to work.
Ongoing Remote Patient Monitoring Responsibility
While the overall remote patient monitoring process tends to be simple and user-friendly, there are likely to be at least some ongoing responsibilities for you. Like most other health and wellness programs, remote patient monitoring typically requires active participation or action from its patients.
You may need to perform the required health data reading at the requested intervals. While most of today's remote patient monitoring devices will automatically transmit the data to your doctor, you will need ensure you are capturing that data. For example, you may need to place the blood pressure monitor cuff on your wrist for the reading to take place or step on the scale to record and transmit your current weight reading.
For remote patient monitoring to be successful, it is important that you follow all guidelines and recommendations provided by your doctor. The remote patient monitoring process truly is a team approach to achieving optimal health and decreasing the negative effects of your chronic health condition.
Health Insurance Coverage of Remote Patient Monitoring
To qualify for remote patient monitoring coverage through Medicare and most other health insurances, you need only have a health condition that your doctor feels would benefit from monitoring and care management. Some of the most common examples include diabetes, hypertension, heart failure, and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). For Medicare beneficiaries and most other insurances, payment for remote patient monitoring is subject to your deductible and coinsurance.
For most patients, remote patient monitoring is a cost-effective, proactive healthcare solution that typically saves patients and the health system money over the long term by reducing the amount of care needed; decreasing the need for more expensive, urgent care; and reducing the number of trips that must be made to the office.
Value of Remote Patient Monitoring for Patients
The value of remote patient monitoring goes far beyond your wallet. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic diseases cost our healthcare system a staggering $3.8 trillion annually. Gaining the upper hand in the battle against chronic diseases is important. Remote patient monitoring can help control these costs one patient at a time. On a personal level, remote patient monitoring means fewer trips to the office, fewer co-pays, less money spent on gas and other transportation costs, and less time away from work or loved ones.
The benefits of remote patient monitoring are becoming more apparent as more patients begin to participate in RPM programs. Remote patient monitoring can keep you healthier. Research has shown that an effective RPM program reduces the need for hospitalization, reduces hospital readmissions, can reduce the length of stay if you do get admitted to the hospital, reduces healthcare costs to you and your provider, and permits older or disabled individuals to remain in their homes, avoiding the need for skilled nursing facilities for longer.
In short, remote patient monitoring is a win-win-win for patients, doctors, and our healthcare system. If you think remote patient monitoring might be right for helping manage your health, speak with your doctor. RPM may be the service you've needed but didn't know existed until now.