We mentioned remote patient monitoring in the past, usually in passing, as part of telehealth / telemedicine. But what is it, exactly? How is remote patient monitoring related to telehealth? How does it differ? And what is its importance to both healthcare providers and patients?  

RPM vs Telehealth vs Patient Monitoring

In a nutshell, remote patient monitoring (RPM) allows healthcare providers to monitor their patients outside of clinical settings like hospitals. RPM falls under telehealth because it involves some use of technology in providing patient care outside the clinic. Patient monitoring is sometimes mentioned – and confused – with RPM. While both involve monitoring patients (hence the name), the former is under controlled conditions like in an in-clinic sleep study. RPM is usually done outside such medical establishments like a patient’s home.

Monitoring devices used in RPM include bluetooth-enabled glucometers, blood pressure cuffs, or even weight scales to give clinicians the ability to remotely track patients’ chronic conditions, physical symptoms, or any post-hospitalization rehabilitation. The information they transmit can be continuous or scheduled depending on the treatment plan. 

It’s this focus on remote tracking, monitoring, and digitally transmitting patient’s information that makes RPM distinct. It is not a requisite for telehealth. Concerned parents discussing their child’s fever with the family physician via a medical panel PC is an example of telehealth. A surgeon performing a procedure thousands of miles away via an on-site surgical robot is another example. Neither involve the monitoring or tracking devices required with RPM. 

Importance of RPM for Clinicians

In the medical world, information is not only important but can be a matter of life or death depending on the issue. Before RPM, clinicians had to rely on seeing patients at their clinic to assess their conditions and to develop treatment plans. This has proven to be a barrier to timely and effective diagnosis and management. Chronic issues like diabetes, especially, could prove difficult to assess and properly treat based on a couple of 15-20 appointments. RPM, for clinicians, changes that by:

  • Collecting and providing real-world data. With RPM, the clinician can see how their patient’s condition changes in real-time, allowing them to develop treatment plans that are timely, meaningful, and realistic to the patient’s condition and lifestyle. 
  • Allowing rapid intervention. RPM systems can alert medical staff in real-time when a patient’s health conditions worsen.
  • Serving rural communities. Patients living in rural areas and many out-of-the-way locations usually have few, if any, nearby medical resources. RPMs would allow clinicians to monitor their conditions remotely, scheduling virtual visits via telemedicine for any necessary follow-ups. Patients who are non-mobile like paraplegics or the very elderly also benefit from such an arrangement.  
  • Handling more patients without loss of quality. Medical staff like nurses or physicians’ assistants usually manage RPM. They only alert the clinician if they notice a concerning trend in the patient’s data. This allows the clinician to expand their patient panel while still maintaining a high level of care.
  • Practicing safe distancing. RPM and, in general, telemedicine proved invaluable in allowing healthcare providers to monitor patients safely through the COVID-19 pandemic. Many chronic patients fell by the wayside as their regular doctors’ offices and even hospitals were slammed with patients who have fallen ill with the novel coronavirus. 

Importance of RPM for Patients

The advantages for clinicians are numerous. But what about their patients? There are actually several benefits. 

  • Monitor their condition in real-time. Patients, thanks to tracking tools attached to them, can see what their condition is (e.g., high blood pressure, low sugar, etc.) and any changes that occur as they follow (or not follow) their doctor’s orders.
  • Educational opportunity. As above, plus the opportunity to educate patients about their condition, their care plan, and the responsibility in bettering themselves.
  • Protection from infectious diseases and HAIs. With RPM, patients do not have to visit the hospital or clinic. This allows them to avoid pathogens like hospital-acquired infections, which is important for high-risk patients such as the elderly, chronically ill, pregnant, or immunocompromised.  
  • Caregiver involvement. Caregivers for patients find they have greater investment when given access to their patient’s (called “client”) vital sign recordings and progress like on a medical tablet. They can assist in implementing the doctor’s plans, and monitor its effects through the RPM tools. Also such information can be vital if the caregiver has to answer any questions about the client’s health or there’s an emergency.
  • Reduce expenses. Because RPM is done primarily at a patient’s residence, there are no high costs from hospital stays and other such medical facilities. Also, RPM allows patients to avoid both the expense and effort involved in medical office visits (i.e., transportation, parking, any child care, taking time off from work, etc.)

Closing Thoughts 

In both concept and real-world use, remote patient monitoring is quite simple: the tracking and monitoring of a patient’s vitals remotely through various devices. The impact for both the clinician and patient are profound, though, ranging from the development of custom treatment plans to providing top-notch medical care for patients dwelling in hard-to-reach places. Contact an expert at Cybernet if you’re looking to learn more about RPM and setting it up with healthcare IT. Also follow Cybernet on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin to stay up to date on this and other relevant topics.