Physicians are increasingly expected to provide better healthcare management for their patients with the rapid changes happening in the tech sector. Remote patient monitoring could be the key to lowering hospital readmission rates or maintaining stability among the chronically ill.
As new payment models are introduced, with financial incentives for physicians, it’s only a matter of time before the focus of patient care shifts toward the management of assigned populations. Healthcare providers are being called on to better manage their patient populations in order to prevent problems and improve outcomes. Stimulated by this increasing need, there has been a growth in technology that connects patients’ medical status to physicians and other caregivers in hospitals and primary care practices. These technological innovations, such as vital-sign takers and activity trackers, can be lifesaving tools for their patients.
Whether it’s lowering hospital readmission rates or maintaining medical stability among the chronically ill, remote monitoring succeeds in keeping the patient in touch with their physician outside of a hospital or office setting. With remote monitoring, patients don’t have to wait until disaster strikes in order to interact with their providers.
A 2012 eHealth patient survey by Ruder Finn discovered that 33% of patients want their physicians to have access to remote monitoring technologies. Remote monitoring technologies were even more popular among older patients, as 40% of senior patients want technology that will alert their providers in case of an emergency. At the moment, launching a remote monitoring system remains an expensive and challenging ordeal, especially for smaller practices. Installing remote monitoring is just one more issue for physicians to handle, along with EHR systems, patient portals, and social media. Establishing a remote monitoring system requires that a practice change how they do business. It may require joining a network of providers and the development of new ways for providers and patients to interact. New processes and responsibilities may also have to be implemented. Remote monitoring needs to be made practical in order to improve patient care and reduce costs.
Remote monitoring will still require an initial investment, despite efforts to save money. While it has its benefits, such as reduced personnel expenses for greater monitoring loads, in order to maximize these benefits, there must be initial investments in equipment, data transfer, and response to incoming data. These costs can add up quickly.
The most likely customers for remote monitoring technologies are hospitals and health systems that are involved with an infrastructure for population-based health management. While there’s little to no payment under the fee-for-service system when providers are motivated to keep patients healthy, reimbursement for quality care will follow, starting with large organizations and eventually making its way into small practices that have joined the shift to preventive care. Instead of reimbursement for direct costs, practices would share in the savings that the monitoring helped generate, splitting the cost savings with a payer or health system.
Preventing readmissions for CMS-penalized diagnoses is another motivation. The hospitals are the ones setting up equipment and monitoring systems because they’re the ones who may be penalized. However, if a doctor’s patients are being continually readmitted, then the doctor may be the one receiving the penalty.
Most primary care offices don’t have the workflows that would allow them to take on remote monitoring. Workflow redesign is going to have to occur in order to handle these new technologies. Rather than taking place separately, monitoring would use the redesign to its advantage, introducing information from outside feeds when it becomes useful or necessary and directing information to the appropriate medical professional.
Handling data is a significant issue facing providers. Many physicians fear that there’ll be an excess of patient information to sift through. It becomes a matter of being able to recognize concerning data quickly and getting it to clinicians as soon as possible. Physicians can control the restrictions on the monitoring system so that, when exceeded, the physician will be notified. Even with remote monitoring, practices must remain engaged in the healthcare of their patient population.
While remote monitoring has both its benefits and its costs, avoiding future health problems is one of the greatest rewards for both the patient and the provider. If doctors choose to accept prevention as the ultimate goal of their practice, then remote monitoring is going to be an option worth considering.