Remote Patient Monitoring Beyond COVID-19: Recommendations for Ramping Up Capacity

The recent expansion of access to telehealth services for Medicare and Medicaid patients has shown the unique value of these services. Remote patient monitoring (RPM), in particular, continues to realize its potential for the future of patient care.

Two recent policies have recognized the importance of RPM, freeing them up for increased adoption among both patients and providers. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services expanded coverage for RPM to include new patients and patients with acute conditions. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration began allowing approved medical devices for use in remote settings.

While both policies are temporary—authorized in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency—many healthcare professionals and industry experts are keen to making them permanent, having experienced their versatility and convenience regarding patient care firsthand.

RPM is a subset of telehealth that involves the collection, transmission, evaluation and communication of patients’ health data from electronic devices. These devices include handheld medical equipment as well as implanted equipment and wearable sensors. Thanks to RPM, many providers are able to meet their patients where they work and live.

Should regulators and lawmakers make their telehealth expansion measures permanent, and as the technology around patient health data evolves, healthcare organizations would be wise to take a measured approach in adopting and expanding their RPM services, one that acts on the following recommendations, (adapted from the Harvard Business Review):

Start with a pilot program. Despite the fact that healthcare is a time-sensitive endeavor, RPM must demonstrate that it is first and foremost a means of improving clinical outcomes. This is where a pilot program—beginning with a small population and scaling gradually based on proven success—can help organizations avoid costly mistakes in the early going.

By the same measure, finding and tapping sources of sustainable funding for RPM programs are essential. At a time when many hospitals, particularly rural hospitals, are struggling financially because of delays in elective surgeries and a preponderance of uninsured and underinsured patients, locating reimbursements for your organization’s RPM services could mean the difference between a successful RPM program and a washout.

RPM technology should be eased into clinicians’ workflows. What with electronic medical records, the documenting of quality metrics and Zoom meetings, clinicians face an ever-growing burden when it comes to administrative work. It is therefore important that the introduction of RPM technology present as little disruption to their daily routines as possible. This may require the redesign of processes already in place.

It’s also a good idea to dedicate non-physician staff to help operate the new RPM program, though non-physician staff members should match up with the nature of the work. For instance, a pharmacist might be the appropriate person for the complex administrative tasks related to hypertension-medication management, as opposed to someone with zero familiarity with the condition.

RPM technology should be easy to use for both the patient and the doctor. While developing and installing RPM technology will likely require patience from all parties involved, physicians should be able to explain the setup and use of RPM equipment to patients with relative ease. By the same measure, the data generated by RPM should be easy for providers to monitor and analyze.

With an intuitive model, patients are likely to better engage with their own health and clinicians are better equipped to understand and manage their patients’ health.

Pay attention to health equity. Younger patients whose first language is English are likely to take up RPM more quickly, but your organization’s RPM program will mean little if financial concerns and other socioeconomic factors limit some patients’ access to RPM.

If the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has taught us nothing else, it has shown that rural and minority populations are disproportionately affected by public health emergencies. It is therefore imperative that your organization make a concerted effort to educate and support these patients.

Healthcare stands on the cusp of enabling providers to evaluate and treat patients outside the confines of a clinic or hospital. With these recommendations in mind, there’s no telling how much organizations will benefit from RPM.