Remote Patient Monitoring A to Z

Remote Patient Monitoring

With remote patient monitoring (RPM), using technology to track and send health data makes life easier for patients and providers. For patients, it means more convenience, fewer trips to the doctor, and fewer days in the hospital. For healthcare workers, it is easier to track patients and give them the best treatment.

The many benefits of remote patient monitoring mean this is a fast-growing industry worth taking the time to understand better. Let's go through the basics of RPM, why it's emerging as a standard of care, who can use it, and the financial implications.

What Is Considered Remote Patient Monitoring?

At its core, RPM  involves using technology to collect health data and send it to the relevant healthcare providers. Many patients benefit from this service, including those with chronic illnesses, recovering from surgery, short-term injury, or those at high risk for developing medical issues.

Some of the most common devices used for this monitoring are:

Blood pressure cuff
for taking blood pressure
Pulse oximeter
for measuring blood oxygen saturation
for tracking blood sugar levels
ECG + Stethoscope
for heart and lung monitoring
for tracking fever
for tracking weight
for measuring lung volume
Remote patient monitoring wearables (like step counters and activity trackers)
for continuous monitoring of symptoms and daily activity

How Does CMS Define Remote Patient Monitoring?

Because RPM is often used by and covered under Medicare and Medicaid, it can be helpful to know how the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) define it. According to CMS, remote patient monitoring falls under the umbrella of home health benefit, which they describe as "the collection of physiologic data (for example, ECG, blood pressure, glucose monitoring) digitally stored and/or transmitted by the patient or caregiver or both to the home health agency."

What Is the Purpose of Remote Monitoring?

Remote monitoring uses the devices mentioned above to measure and record health data. It also includes a software component that sends this data to the medical staff who need to see it. The true purpose of RPM is to do these two jobs (record and send health data) in real-time to make managing a patient's health easier for them and their medical team. Ideally, this remote patient monitoring software also makes communication between patients and their healthcare providers quick and easy, so the benefits of this monitoring translate into real-time updates to care and treatment.

At Harmonize Health, we took the principles of RPM and ran with them to make remote healthcare so easy that patients use it! Our RPM platform has everything your healthcare practice needs to serve your patients best, including:

Easy patient onboarding
  • Easy patient onboarding, especially for patients not used to technology - everything is ready to use out of the box
  • A custom kit of devices for each patient depending on their conditions and health needs
  • An app that makes recording data effortless for patients
  • Patient engagement tools that keep users engaged and participating, with high adherence rates to prove it
  • Straightforward communication channels between patients and medical staff (like video, chat, or questionnaires)
  • An effective and efficient alerting framework and automated clinical workflow
  • Education and Behavioral coaching straight to patients to empower them to best manage their care

What Is an Example of Remote Patient Monitoring?

To put all this background into a real-world example, let's look at a theoretical patient's experience with and without RPM. Our example patient is Betty, a 70-year-old woman who lives alone with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, and a history of falling. The hospital recently released her after hip surgery.

Without Remote Patient Monitoring

Without Remote Patient Monitoring

Betty was sent home after surgery, with a follow-up appointment scheduled two weeks later. She noticed some extra shortness of breath and a slight fever but assumed they were expected and planned to ask the doctor about them at her appointment. Unfortunately, she became so ill before that appointment that she ended up in the Emergency Room with a severe postoperative infection resulting in readmission to the hospital for IV antibiotics.

With Remote Patient Monitoring

With Remote Patient Monitoring

Harmonize Health provided Betty with a wearable monitor that recorded her blood sugar levels, blood oxygen saturation, activity throughout the day, heart rate, and hourly temperature. A phone app also prompted her to use a spirometer and record her lung volume daily. Her medical team received daily reports of her vital signs and was available to answer her questions about any unusual symptoms. When her oxygen saturation dropped, and she developed a fever, she was scheduled to come into the office for an appointment during regular office hours. A doctor treated her post-surgery infection early and quickly.

What Problem Does Remote Patient Monitoring Solve?

What problems is your healthcare practice facing that remote patient monitoring can help? One of the biggest problems RPM solves is to keep patients healthier while reducing costs. RPM companies, like Harmonize Health, help patients avoid unnecessary visits to doctor's offices, ERs, and hospitals. This allows providers of patients under value-based care arrangements to provide care efficiently and remotely and keeps rising healthcare costs under control.

Healthcare costs are prohibitive for many patients, and these rising costs also affect healthcare facilities, government healthcare programs, and insurance premiums. As a result, everyone involved wants ways to lower the cost of healthcare without sacrificing quality. 

At Harmonize Health, we have found that our RPM saves an average of $7,000 per patient monitored annually. This is a huge win for patients, providers, and payers. You might be thinking, how can adding something to care make it cheaper? The answer is that RPM can identify problems early when they are faster and easier to treat. Faster and easier often means cheaper too. 

RPM automates much of the traditional healthcare staff labor. These tasks include nurses calling patients daily to get their vital signs and manually entering data like blood pressure and patient temperature into a chart for tracking purposes. A good RPM platform not only collects this data but also records it and automatically sends alerts to the relevant healthcare workers when something is a problem.  

Other incidental benefits come with RPM that further improve patients' lives. In the sections below, we'll explore these problems and how remote patient monitoring can help.

Quality of Life for Patients

Poor Quality of Life for Patients

As important as doctors and nurses are to us, hanging out in the doctor's office is not most people's favorite thing to do. If someone has a chronic illness, they sometimes feel like all they ever have time for is keeping up with their medical appointments or going in and out of the hospital, which takes a toll on their quality of life.

With RPM, patients do not often need to visit the office for monitoring. Fewer maintenance appointments mean they have more time to spend with loved ones and do the things they enjoy. And the benefits of RPM in keeping patients out of the hospital mean they get more nights of sleeping in their beds.

We can quantify the quality of life with RPM with metrics like Health Care Quality of Life (HCQoL) and Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS). These measures of patient well-being also impact a medical establishment's value-based care qualifications and payments, which are crucial in reducing healthcare costs.

Congested Medical Services

So much of the healthcare system was and continues to be stretched thin during the COVID pandemic that many non-COVID patients struggle to get timely care. Hospitals, doctor's offices, and urgent care facilities can and do have problems with understaffing and high patient volume, so there aren't enough beds and care providers to go around. 

With RPM through Harmonize Health, we have seen a 50% reduction in hospital bed days in our patients. This drop happens for two main reasons. One, catching problems early and treating them more easily means fewer hospital admissions. Two, accurate real-time monitoring means patients that used to need to stay in the hospital can recover in the comfort of their homes instead. So although reducing hospital congestion isn't an intended consequence of RPM, it can significantly affect hospital admissions.

We manage to catch patient deterioration earlier because we're monitoring patients. That results in 43% fewer ER visits and 61% fewer hospital admissions. When there is any admission, it is shorter than the average length.

Remote monitoring means these patients are less likely to go to the hospital and do not need to go in person for monitoring—avoiding another contact point for catching a life-threatening disease. Reducing the chances of a chronically ill patient getting the flu or another easy-to-catch illness means a better option for a longer and healthier life for that patient. Although reducing patients' exposure to disease transmission isn't an intended benefit of RPM, it does have the potential to mitigate these risks.

How Effective Is Remote Patient Monitoring?

As we've already mentioned, RPM shows some impressive results that clearly show how effectively it can improve patient care. In fact, the Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP) says remote monitoring can "help keep people healthy, allow older and disabled individuals to live at home longer and avoid having to move into skilled nursing facilities. RPM can also reduce the number of hospitalizations, readmissions, and lengths of stay in hospital—all of which help improve quality of life and contain costs."

Here are some of Harmonize Health's remote patient monitoring statistics to quantify the kind of impressive results we're talking about:

For the patients:

fewer hospital admissions
fewer days patients spent in the hospital
fewer ER visits
fewer fluctuations in patient vital signs (which means more stable patients)

For the medical providers:

fewer false alerts
monthly patient retention
efficiency gain in staff coverage
increase in the amount of monitoring data that comes through the system 
cost savings per patient per year

Who Can Perform Remote Patient Monitoring?

We've talked a lot about the patients and the devices used for RPM. Now, let's learn who is looking at the data. Two main groups deal with this data—the patient's healthcare providers (their doctor or nurse) and the RPM companies, like Harmonize Health. Let's look at each in more detail to see their roles.

Remote Patient Monitoring Companies

RPM companies generally work with both patients and medical facilities to:

  • Create a user-friendly app or website for monitoring and sending data
  • Help patients set up and use monitoring devices
  • Train patients to use the platform to record additional information and contact their care providers
  • Summarize and send data to the patient's medical providers
  • Analyze data to send alerts to medical staff when monitors show a potential health problem
  • Allow communication between the patient and provider about what to do next 

At Harmonize Health, our powerful analytics tools mean providers don't just get raw data that takes time to analyze; they get actionable recommendations in minutes of everything from insulin optimization to care plans. In addition, our comprehensive decision support means our platform has a 60% reduction in false alarms, so your staff and patients get the best care possible without unnecessary time.

Healthcare Providers

Healthcare providers (like doctors, nurses, coordinators, and other medical staff) can:

  • Identify a patient as a good fit for remote monitoring
  • Get patient consent and sign them up for RPM
  • Review vital sign data as it comes in from a patient
  • Make medical decisions for the patient based on this data (like changing medications, scheduling an office visit, increasing monitoring, etc.)

To summarize, the providers of RPM are:

  • RPM companies or program vendors who collect, statistically analyze, and send patient health monitoring data to medical staff
  • Medical staff, who review the data and its analysis and use them to make medical decisions

What Is the Difference between Telehealth and Remote Patient Monitoring?

Telehealth and Remote Patient Monitoring

RPM is often considered a subset of telehealth and is a great tool to use as part of a telehealth program. RPM uses devices to monitor a patient's health outside a medical setting, while telehealth is the entire umbrella of using technology to support long-distance healthcare and health education.

To clarify this difference more, let's look at an example. An app prompts patients to use their spirometer to measure breath volume and a pulse oximeter to measure blood oxygen saturation each morning. These wirelessly connected devices record the data and send it to their doctor. This is RPM.

Their doctor reviews this data and compares it to the results from other days and standard benchmarks. The doctor decides that there is a problem, and the patient needs to increase their use of supplemental oxygen. The doctor calls the patient and explains the new treatment plan. If the patient needs further guidance, someone on their healthcare team may do a video call to show them how to adjust the levels of their oxygen tank. This interaction is telehealth, from the first app prompt to the video call.

The line can get even blurrier between the two because many RPM platforms include doctor-patient communication channels, like messaging and video calls. In addition, both of these terms are relatively new, and as this technology becomes more and more mainstream, their exact definitions and use are evolving.

Who Pays for Remote Patient Monitoring?

There are many questions about remote patient monitoring costs and who pays for them. The short answer is that private insurance or Medicare and Medicaid generally pay for RPM, but let's go through some of the most frequently asked questions to cover more specifics.

Does CMS Cover Remote Patient Monitoring?

The Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS) cover telehealth and RPM costs in many cases. Patients who qualify for CMS remote patient monitoring in 2022 will work with their existing healthcare providers to set up the specific type of monitoring that will help them best. Then, the healthcare providers will use the appropriate billing codes based on those services.

Is Remote Patient Monitoring Cost Effective?

Yes. Many studies and countless individual cases have shown that RPM is very cost-effective. Because hospital stays, ER trips, and multiple in-person office visits can be expensive, the sizable reduction in all of these that RPM delivers means substantial cost savings that dwarf the amount spent on RPM.

"Overall, it's estimated that widespread adoption of remote patient monitoring could save the US as much as $6 billion annually."
The Fiscal Times

This aligns with the Harmonize Health record of $7,000+ yearly savings per patient.

Is Remote Patient Monitoring Worth It?

RPM is undoubtedly worth it when you consider not just the financial savings but the improvement in the quality of life for patients. On average, it takes our patients less than three minutes to submit their measurements, and since 97% of them stay engaged each month—they think it's worth it too!

To quantify this a bit more, the Return on Investment we typically see at Harmonize Health ranges between 200% and 700%, depending on several factors. These include the type of insurance a patient has and the severity of the underlying condition.

How Big Is the Remote Patient Monitoring Market?

With all the benefits of RPM, it's no surprise that millions of patients and healthcare practices already use this fast-growing industry. For example, in the USA in 2020, an estimated 23.4 million patients used RPM devices. That number will grow to 70.6 million users, or 26% of the US population, by 2025. The RPM market is projected to have a compounding annual growth rate of 18.64%, and the 2030 RPM market size is anticipated to be around $6.4 Billion.

Harmonize Health: Keeping Your Well-Being in Harmony

We've laid out all the benefits for your patients and your healthcare practice that RPM brings. Our results speak for themselves and mean people get better healthcare, at a lower cost, with a higher quality of life. When you're ready to take your healthcare practice to the next level in this thriving industry, contact us to get started today!