A small physician practice drove meaningful improvements in outcomes for patients with obesity and hypertension after implementing remote patient monitoring (RPM) technology coupled with an AI-enabled Virtual Assistant.
Sweetwater Medical Associates is a family practice and internal medicine facility in Sugar Land, Texas, with a single clinic location, five providers, as well as a staff team including eight Medical Assistants (MAs). This small-but-mighty team is always time-strapped, and they often found it challenging to monitor at-risk patients with hypertension and obesity to help manage their chronic conditions and look for signs of impending problems.
Given Sweetwater’s needs, they began researching RPM, a healthcare delivery method that uses digital technologies to monitor and analyze patient vitals and other health data outside of a traditional healthcare setting – at home. RPM technology securely transmits health information between patients and providers to enable more informed clinical decision-making, quicker interventions, greater adherence to treatment, and ultimately better patient outcomes.
It is often used to manage and care for high-risk patients, such as those with chronic or acute health illnesses or conditions. When coupled with an AI-enabled Virtual Assistant that engages with the patients, offering nudges, feedback and praise, RPM patients are encouraged, take ownership of their health and are more successful in managing their chronic condition.
With AI-enabled RPM technology, healthcare organizations can better manage chronic conditions, as well as reduce workforce burden, stress, and burnout among clinical staff — an especially important consideration in a time of widespread healthcare staffing shortages that are only expected to continue.
After a thorough examination, the family practice invested in an RPM solution with an AI-enabled virtual assistant and launched its RPM program.
Patient Analysis, Enrollment & Onboarding
Sweetwater introduced the RPM program to 100 patients in October 2021. To identify patients who would benefit from the program, an analysis was performed on its patient population with an automated proprietary tool that reviewed patient records for diagnosis codes associated with obesity and hypertension, as well as mapped reimbursement qualifications.
Next, the patient pool was narrowed to those who had engaged the practice for an appointment within the last year. The team then began an outreach process involving phone calls, emails, and texts to eligible patients, explaining the purpose of the RPM program, how it works from the patient perspective, and its benefits.
For patients who expressed interest, Sweetwater provided estimates for the out-of-pocket costs of the program, if any. Based on their condition, enrolled patients received connective care devices including blood pressure monitor, pulse oximeter, glucose monitor, and scale — all of which automatically records their readings in their patient portal.
Sweetwater’s providers also held telephone calls with some patients to answer any questions and facilitate the onboarding process. Once more, much of the onboarding was also efficiently conducted through the AI-enabled Virtual Assistant, which streamlined the onboarding as well.
Reduced Burden, Stronger Patient Relationships & Better Health Outcomes
RPM technology offers numerous benefits to providers and patients. The continuous availability of biometric data allows for efficient asynchronous care so that patients do not have to wait for follow-up visits or catastrophic events for the initiation, escalation, or discontinuation of medical therapies.
Take for example a patient with hypertension. Under the traditional model, a patient would come to the office for a visit where their blood pressure was taken and recorded, or maybe they regularly tracked their blood pressure with a self-process (typically non-digital with pen/paper) at home, which was then shared at the visit or via telehealth. Now, there is a regularized steady flow of blood pressure data for patients, giving significant visibility and insights to Sweetwater providers and offering an easy-to-use seamless connective care system for patients. Patients can take readings on their own, at home through the RPM platform and the results are automatically shared with their providers via a patient portal.
Ultimately, this continuous flow of data can proactively alert providers of a complication, so they can quickly intervene and reduce the risk of a worsening event or escalation of care.
For patients, the AI-enabled Virtual Assistant also engages with them. Many patients even liken the Virtual Assistant to a person, offering nudges and/or accolades and delivering the perception of being supported , which can drive a sense of personal accountability. By regularly measuring key vital signs, patient motivations to make healthier decisions in improving these biometrics may also increase.
That is exactly what Sweetwater saw in this AI-enabled RPM program. In fact, the results were impressive in the first six months: patients enrolled in the program achieved average blood pressure reduction of 5.80 mmHg for those with hypertension and mean weight loss of 3.45 pounds for those with obesity.
In addition to Sweetwater benefitting from these patient health metric improvements, the medical facility is also seeing reduced administrative burdens on providers and staff, especially incoming calls to MAs — a significant efficiency boon for a small staff.
Obtaining patients’ regular readings, Sweetwater providers also conducted a phone call with each patient enrolled in the RPM program at least once a month. This aspect of the program has helped the practice strengthen relationships with patients and led to improvements in patient adherence with medication and treatment plans.
Sweetwater has now expanded the RPM program to 240 patients. As a result of seeing their daily progress and understanding its positive impact on their wellbeing, providers report that AI-enabled RPM has improved many patients’ motivation to take charge and enhance their health. Overall, the RPM program has enabled Sweetwater to dramatically improve its ability to monitor patients, resulting in improved outcomes and reduced administrative burden on providers and staff.
About the Authors
Eric Navarrette is the Practice Manager at Sweetwater Medical Associates, leading the RPM vendor selection process, implementation, and ongoing expansion of the clinic’s RPM Program.
Aaron Nye is Executive Vice President of Customer Operations at Connect America, which is dedicated to connective care technologies to help seniors and vulnerable populations age gracefully in place. He leads the team responsible for all customer care activities including general operations, client activations and onboarding, as well as directing customer studies and insights initiatives.