At the moment, remote patient monitoring or RPM solutions in all their shapes and sizes are the closest to being a silver bullet in distant patient support. They are proven to be effective for early detection of negative health trends and prevention of acuities in patients with various conditions.
In 2016, Capital Blue Cross partnered with Geneia to evaluate RPM’s efficiency for patients with heart failure. They found that RPM saved more than $8,000 per patient and reduced hospitalizations by more than 30 percent. Moreover, the Capital Blue Cross executives mentioned RPM’s positive influence on the life quality of patients and their caregivers.
What makes RPM so powerful? Since remote patient monitoring applications are custom healthcare software by default, providers can plan a plethora of features to encourage patients to track health data, comply with a treatment plan, and follow nutrition suggestions and physical activity requirements.
All these approaches answer three main patient needs from healthcare – personalized approach, information, and communication.
Customizing care delivery
Frequently patients are left clueless about their current health status because doctors usually operate with medical terms and don’t have much time to explain all parts of a care plan to a patient. Some patients can come up with more questions after a consultation, some can be too shy to ask for more detailed clarification. Of course, this situation affects the provider’s credibility, disconnecting patients from their physicians when they should play as a team.
RPM can bring care consumers closer to care providers, helping a patient to feel involved in their health and in control of it. To achieve this control, there are two kinds of RPM applications to help patients to feel their solution is tailored to their care needs.
A general RPM includes features that fit patient groups without severe conditions, enabling them to access their lab results, medical images, health profile, scheduled office visits, and recommended examinations according to their health history.
Patients should also be able to record their basic vitals such as blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, weight, mood, and sleep. Depending on their readings, the app can suggest they contact a physician or keep tracking for a few days to make sure that there’s no need to schedule an appointment.
The other type of RPM app should fit the needs of patients with certain chronic conditions like diabetes, COPD, asthma, allergies, or cancer. Apart from the functionality in the general app, an extended scope of features can include:
- Treatment plan with a calendar for in-hospital procedures and upcoming follow-up appointments
- Extended list of vitals to record: blood glucose, oximetry results, pain levels, headache, nausea, fatigue
- Medication intake guide with prescribed therapies and reminders
- Prescription refill request form
- Tailored nutrition plan with recipes and cheat meal suggestions, because patients will try to eat and drink something they shouldn’t
- Physical activity recommendations with exercises and workout session videos
- Therapeutic education to help a patient get familiar with their condition
- Integration with wearables and smart medical devices such as instant glucometers, CGMs, asthma inhalers, fitness monitors, and insulin pumps
Creating a two-way interaction
The most engaging power of RPM technology is how it makes patients feel supported and connected with their providers even beyond the hospital walls.
Bringing in telemedicine
According to a 2015 study by the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI), telemedicine is comparable in efficiency to regular appointments for helping pediatric asthma patients to manage their condition. Chitra Dinakar, MD, one of the study authors, commented on their findings: “All of those seen – whether in the clinic or by telemedicine – showed an improvement in asthma control over the six months.”
Both chronic patients and occasional care consumers can benefit from telemedicine, be it a regular call, a video call, or even a chat with their PCP. Of course, reimbursement is a constant problem that takes preliminary planning to make this scheme work for providers and patients.
Relying on chatbots
Providers who hope to make a connection that lasts should find ways to discourage patients from doing online searches of their symptoms, thus cutting down the number of “Google says I’m dying” panic episodes. Chatbots can be a great addition to therapeutic education and the first stage of care delivery, allowing patients to pass a preliminary assessment of their health concerns and get a list of possible diagnoses and recommendations tailored to their needs and existing issues.
Introducing actionable patient data
All the data that a patient records manually or via smart devices should be analyzed to build patterns and create a comprehensive picture of the patient’s health status. This is especially important for chronic patients or those recovering after a surgery at home. The data patterns can identify even slight health deteriorations prior to medical acuities and readmissions. Upon getting a better understanding of how the patient’s condition, algorithms can send reminders, notifications, or alerts depending on what actions are needed – contacting a physician, keeping up the good work, or reconsidering dietary habits.
Making it social, but not cheesy
It can be easier to adopt healthy habits or cope with a chronic condition in a good company of friends and family, but there’s a fine line between engaging and irritating social features. The best practice is to plan a set of different options for socializing but make them adjustable and easy-to-disable. For example:
- Badges and medals for complying with certain routines 7-10-20-30 days in a row
- Leaderboards for activity tracking – steps walked or miles run
- Forums, support groups, FAQs
These socializing and gamifying features should be customizable for a patient, so they can decide whether to actively share their progress or keep it private.
Supporting patient engagement instead of forcing it
What providers need to understand is that patients already want to take an active hand in their care delivery, and RPM solutions can give them the proper tools to do it. With RPM technology, patients get a better understanding about their health concerns or validated diagnoses, can process new information in the comfort of their homes, and jot their questions and clarify them via one of the offered channels like a call with their PCP or a chatbot request.
They also learn to recognize their current health status, keeping track of sleep quality and mood swings, monitoring weight, blood pressure, and heart rate. In the meantime, patients don’t feel ignored by caregivers, because they know that any negative trends will be noticed and taken care of. Additionally, care consumers can take control over sharing their data with their inner circle or keeping it more private.
Remote patient monitoring isn’t creating patient engagement, it empowers patients with the tools to express their interest in their own health.
Inga Shugalo is a Healthcare Industry Analyst at Itransition, a custom software development company headquartered in Denver, Colorado. She focuses on Healthcare IT, highlighting the industry challenges and technology solutions that tackle them. Inga’s articles explore diagnostic potential of healthcare IoT, opportunities of precision medicine, robotics and VR in healthcare and more