“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
While obviously not entirely accurate, it is an old proverb that still shows us the importance of maintaining one’s health. Indeed, even in situations where the patient is already suffering from an existing condition, keeping things from getting worse is the first line of defense against any complication that might occur.
This is why today, a huge emphasis is being given to developing and implementing remote patient monitoring (RPM) systems. And this isn’t just limited to individual patients’ benefits. Because RPM as a concept itself also has definitive advantages to the entire medical industry as a whole.
How Exactly Does Remote Patient Monitoring Work?
As its name suggests, remote patient monitoring is a system or practice using several integrated technologies that allow medical professionals to collect information from a patient outside of standard medical institutions. RPM’s most common form is telemedicine, which is simply the communication between doctor and patient using an internet-based medium, such as a VoIP (Voice over IP).
Of course, there are many more different types of medical information that can be sent over wireless communication media. Some require just one or two devices, while others may combine three or more technologies to implement.
As for what exactly these components and technologies are:
- Networking transmitters – basic telecommunications technologies are typically available on many devices in this day and age. For RPM components, a combination of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity is usually the norm, with Wi-Fi being the more universal option, and Bluetooth only enabled using multiple devices in tandem.
- Physiological sensors – these are individual instruments that measure the vital statistics of a patient’s body. For example, oscillometric sensors can detect blood flow where it is placed, and calculate blood pressure from the measurements that it reads. Most often, multiple sensors will be installed on just one device, with all of the information being integrated to form generalized readings.
- Tracking devices – for connectivity beyond standard data transmissions, a tracking device may also allow doctors to determine their patients’ location and general activity level. GPS time-noted activities are also included in this category.
- Data access hardware – this is a fancier term that simply refers to any hardware that either provides communication between doctor and patient or can look up the information collected by RPM devices. Mobile devices like smartphones can do real-time monitoring via Bluetooth. Standard network-connected PCs can also access online accounts where the collected medical data is automatically sent (which is also updated in real-time).
- Information processing software – while providing alerts or notifications for certain RPM device readings and measurements is enough of a benefit, allowing software to process the data can provide even better results. For instance, diagnostic programs can provide (pre-prepared) generalized assessments to help facilitate better, faster, and more efficient online consultations.
- Data storage centers/hubs – this is where the transmitted data is sent over. RPM-related medical databases could be local, meaning the storage hardware is provided by the medical institution itself. It can also be outsourced to data hosting services, much in the same way as other businesses create and set up offices online. Either way, an automation tool is often also employed to easily and quickly collate the data for later reference.
Advantages of Remote Patient Monitoring
The main benefit of RPM is easy data access. Medical information becomes available anywhere at anytime, to be used whenever appropriate. This goes both for the medical professional and the patient. Though, it generally benefits doctors more because they can maintain contact with patients and are more capable of interpreting the information accurately.
On a specific level, however, RPM’s advantages may vary across different monitoring systems and setups:
RPM Benefit 1: Real-time Patient Data Access and Collation
Medical information isn’t just available anywhere and anytime. But for each brief period, measurements are made and sent to where doctors can observe them live. This is in-lieu of conducting routine tests, which require scheduling, extend between critical time periods, and have to be done within a confined space. Even better, the device is typically small and discreet enough that it is never bothersome for the patient to wear or attach. The need to charge the device every now and then may occasionally interrupt monitoring, but additional setups can easily circumvent these limitations.
Additionally, the continuous measurement allows data to be conveniently collated into a graph, to where the concerned medical professionals can analyze patterns and trends.
RPM Benefit 2: Health Access is Generally Quicker
Setting up appointments for consultations no longer becomes as necessary with RPM. Instead, a telemedicine system can be set up as a convenient remote alternative. Communication between different patients would still require scheduling, and certain checkup procedures might still need physical attendance. But at the very least, there is no wait time involved, and there is no need to visit a clinical establishment frequently.
Such benefit becomes even more important during specific medical crises. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic prohibited mass gathering and crowding, and so RPM became the default safer consultation option for both doctors and patients.
RPM Benefit 3: Extended Hospitalization is Less Needed
Certain (chronic) conditions that would force the patient to stay at a hospital for an indefinite amount of time need both constant monitoring and medical attention. Through RPM, the level of urgency is lowered, allowing medication, treatment, and monitoring to be continued instead of far more comfortable environments, such as one’s home.
Also, if ever rehospitalization would be needed, the earliest signs could be detected in advance. With prepared responses to such situations, fellow household members could then take action immediately, hopefully to prevent (severe) complications caused by treatment delays.
RPM Benefit 4: Potentially Improves Patient’s Lifestyle
Speaking of chronic illnesses, RPM can immediately provide a direct benefit by acting as an all-around health maintenance tool. Using a monitoring device of reliable accuracy, patients can quickly determine which things are okay and which to avoid. One can then more conveniently form schedules and habits around its created safe activity range.
This advantage extends to medication, as drug intake could also be set up and recorded using RPM. Notifications can act as reminders. But more critically, warning signs confirmed from multiple RPM sources can let the patient know if an emergency procedure or medication would be required immediately.
RPM Benefit 5: Saving Money / Cost Optimization
Lesser visits to the hospital and lesser time spent on using facilities means there is quite a sum of money that can be saved from RPM. True, initial investment might be needed for the monitoring devices in the first place. But in the long run, the information continuously provided by RPM devices would theoretically pay for itself in terms of health maintenance.
Better yet, combining electronic health records (EHR) with data from Remote Patient Monitoring using various automation software is yet another way to save costs, this time on the medical institution side.
Disadvantages of Remote Patient Monitoring
But as much as we would like to tout RPM as the next guiding light for the future of healthcare, the technology still faces issues and hurdles that can cause several drawbacks:
RPM Drawback 1: Depends on Telecommunications Infrastructure
RPM is heavily dependent on network connectivity. In fact, without any telecommunications infrastructure, it is next to useless. If there would be any sudden network outages, or if internet services are not reliable enough, doctors may not be able to communicate or respond in time. In the case of areas where there is little to no internet service, the RPM device may simply function as an ordinary health wearable.
RPM Drawback 2: Requires Willingness / Transparency of Privacy
Real-time monitoring needs continuous data flow, and continuous data flow needs the device to be operational during active hours. But, this also requires the cooperation of the patients themselves to work. None of RPM’s advantages in data analysis and early response may be utilized if the patient is skeptical, is worried excessively about privacy concerns, or if in some manner, fails to use it as often as they should.
RPM Drawback 3: Interpretation Could be Subject to Error
Reliability, while quite satisfactory, is still somewhat far from perfect for RPM. This is at least according to a medical research paper published within the last five years. It stated, at least for wearables tracking physical activity, variations in accuracy went up as wide as 25%. As the paper concurs, it is a “serious discrepancy” obviously because such considerable error margins would definitely skew any response to certain measurement levels.
RPM Drawback 4: The Technology Could be a Hurdle for Patients
Lastly, RPM technologies may just be too complex for certain individuals. Simpler monitoring devices like blood pressure monitors may work at the press of a button. But with more and more medical data becoming integrated with smartphone apps, significantly less tech-savvy individuals may inadvertently fall victim to drawback number two.
The issue could be significantly worse for people suffering from mental illnesses, specifically those who are well enough to function independently but are unable to use Remote Patient Monitoring apps or devices reliably.
Is RPM Really That Effective?
As shown by drawback number three, RPM is still quite imperfect, and can be subject to data translation errors. Despite this, RPM technologies have been making headway into every aspect of healthcare today, and will continue to develop and improve for the foreseeable future.
RPM’s Triumph in COVID-19 Response
In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the significant importance of remote monitoring and telemedicine services in general during times when physical contact is restricted. In fact, very recent sources claim that an RPM-integrated healthcare research model profoundly impacted the level of recovery of COVID-19 patients. According to the report, outpatient management teams implemented remote monitoring programs on high-risk patients “so that hospital admission and advanced care can be provided in a timely manner.”
These RPM systems also had the bonus effect of preventing medical institutions from getting stressed to maximum capacity, which is the number one cause for concern in any widespread medical crisis. By being able to observe patients remotely, clinical care never technically ceased while safely secluding the infected, even keeping hospitals both safe from further spreading infection and tipping over its service limit due to overcrowding.
Remote Patient Monitoring Innovations Overcoming the Barrier of Technology
But even on smaller, more subtle scales, Remote Patient Monitoring still proves its worth by simply improving patient behaviour. Gone are the days of having no choice but to deal with intimidating machines and contraptions that may cause instant discomfort just at the sight of them. Nowadays, all medical information may be accessed at the visually-pleasing convenience of any graphical user interface (GUI).
To that end, companies such as Care Innovations promises to mitigate, or even completely erase RPM drawback number four, through their locally developed Health Harmony remote care management system. Not only is the service promoted to be easier to use, but it is also supposed to foster active patient engagement, built to integrate seamlessly into the patient’s everyday life. All of this, in combination with more traditional monitoring tools such as telemedicine services. This component of RPM, after all, would still require face-to-face communication with a health professional from time to time.
RPM Could Bring Back One’s Normal Life
Unarguably, RPM’s biggest impact in healthcare is the development of integrated maintenance systems for chronic medical conditions. This means an RPM could mean leading a perfectly normal life for patients who would otherwise still require active and regular visits to clinical facilities. Checkups would eventually still be required, of course. But it would become no different than an ordinary person’s visit to the dentist.
In fact, quantitative research has been able to definitely prove just how efficient RPM can be for diabetes patients as early as 2003. The verdict was that “electronic transmission of blood glucose levels and other diabetes data every two weeks results in a similar level of glucose control.” This averaged out to the incidences of acute diabetes complications as well. Thus, It brought forth an additional conclusion that daily accurate RPM measurements would technically be just as effective as a clinical visit every three months.
Indeed, such efficiency reaches the level of maintenance of more casual medical consultations. Hence, (proven and trusted) RPM systems could essentially make lifelong afflictions into something that patients would simply need to care for regularly.
Becoming Part of Everyone’s Lives
Remote Patient Monitoring offers huge benefits for those who receive care and treatment, whilst it also increases the reach that care providers have. Moreover, the adoption and implementation of RPM solutions is already transforming the healthcare landscape.
Concerns over RPM involving privacy issues are definitely worth considering. But in the face of more privacy-questionable apps and platforms like Facebook and Google services, we should consider that these concerns are comparatively small hurdles, especially because of the life transforming benefits that RPM offers patients receiving care.
At the very least, data privacy is something that needs to be addressed within the wider area of information technology as a whole.
So, if a balanced compromise between data accessibility and medical information can be established someday, it will be easier to present RPM’s advantages to the general public. With this approach RPM can one day possibly become the default “convenience” that doctors have been longing for.