Even as COVID-19 restrictions ease, some pandemic-related innovations are thriving. Remote work and Zoom meetings have become the norm, just to cite two examples.
Nowhere is this sea change more evident than in the healthcare industry. As doctors’ offices closed and hospitals were overrun with critically ill patients at the beginning of the pandemic, telehealth options became increasingly popular among individuals that required care, but were well enough to remain at home, or return there.
Such services made possible social distancing, reducing potential infectious exposure and minimizing the surge of patient demand on hospitals. They also reduced the need on the part of healthcare providers for personal protective equipment (PPE).
Remote patient monitoring (RPM) during COVID-19 has also proven to be one of the most effective means of providing patient treatment without face-to-face contact or unnecessary exposure. RPM uses digital technology from connected devices—including wearable heart monitors to Bluetooth-enabled scales and Fitbits—to monitor and capture health data from patients and electronically transmit this information to providers for assessment and recommendations, especially for post-hospitalization care.
Many major hospital systems are banking on the fact that the future of hospital care lies within patients’ homes. RPM at home has also attracted interest from insurers who want to slow healthcare spending.
Two of the country’s biggest healthcare providers, Kaiser Permanente and the Mayo Clinic, recently announced plans to collectively invest $100 million into Medically Home, a Boston-based company that provides a technology and services platform that enables patients to receive high-quality acute and restorative care in their homes. The two organizations are seeking to expand their offerings and estimate that 30 percent of patients currently admitted to hospitals in the U.S. have conditions eligible for in-home care. Moreover, it has been abundantly clear during the pandemic that remote care has helped combat patient isolation and loneliness, allowing family members to be at a loved one’s bedside at home while helping hospitals cope with the increased demand for hospital beds.
The CDC reports that RPM can be used to maintain a strong patient-provider relationship in the following ways, when an in-person visit is not practical or necessary:
- Screening patients who may have COVID-19 symptoms and refer when appropriate.
- Provide urgent care for non-COVID-19 conditions and identify individuals who may need additional medical attention.
- Access primary care providers and specialists including mental and behavioral healthcare professionals for chronic health conditions and medication management.
- Offer coaching and support for patients managing health conditions, including weight management and nutrition counseling.
- Provide physical and occupational therapy as a hybrid approach to in-person care.
- Monitor and assess blood pressure, blood glucose, and other signs of chronic medical issues like diabetes.
- Case management for patients who cannot easily access care due to mobility issues or distance from medical facilities.
- Follow up with patients after hospitalization.
- Provide non-emergent care to residents in long-term care facilities.
The CDC also promotes the use of RPM to reach out to patients with limited technology and connectivity, using video consultation or non-video options when possible.
In March 2020, the market analysis firm Research2Guidance (R2G) conducted a global survey of members of the digital health community to determine their expectations about how the pandemic would affect the community. One year later, the same survey was conducted to see what had changed for the 293 digital health industry experts who participated.
Seventy-three percent of respondents said telehealth was positively affected by COVID-19, and RPM was the second-highest subset in digital health, with 52 percent in 2021 compared to 42 percent in 2020. As a result, the survey concluded:
Today it remains clear that the pandemic will last much longer—and its effects will be much more profound—than originally anticipated. In the eyes of our respondents and the wider industry, digital health especially experienced growth. As healthcare seekers and providers, both sought ways to reduce face-to-face contact, and healthcare gained a new importance for everyone, digital solutions came to the forefront.
RPM also benefits home health agencies by allowing clinicians to virtually monitor patient vitals such as temperature, blood oxygen levels, and heart rate, and agencies can request readings on an as-needed basis. If the data indicates a problem, agency staff can reach out to the patient and ask them to provide a second reading and then discuss the next steps regarding further medical care.
The Allure Group— a network of six New York City-based skilled nursing facilities—partnered with Vis a Vis Health to solidify its transition care, dispensing hand-held devices to patients upon their discharge which track vital signs and enable communication with healthcare professionals.
Studies show that remote care reduces mortality, readmission rates, and costs compared with in-hosptial care, and the results also suggest that home-based healthcare increases patient and caregiver satisfaction. Further, RPM technologies help support skilled nursing facilities with infection control and prevention, another leading cause of hospital readmissions.
Designers of wearable technology and remote patient monitors are working to resolve challenges such as high costs by delivering better devices at more affordable prices and smaller sizes with connectivity. Healthcare providers agree that the rapid adoption of wearables and other RPM devices will change the landscape of healthcare as the pandemic eases.