Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, growing numbers of healthcare providers were exploring remote patient monitoring (RPM) as a supplement to in-person office visits to better manage and prevent a variety of healthcare issues.
What is remote patient monitoring?
RPM is defined as the use of digital technologies to collect health data from individuals and electronically transmit that information to healthcare providers in a different location. Many technologies, such as weight scales, blood pressure monitors, and glucometers can be connected via Bluetooth to a central data hub, or cloud. Then, healthcare providers receive this data for further evaluation.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies medical-grade devices into three categories:
- Medical device - Any instrument, apparatus, or machine intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of medical conditions. Examples include bandages, CT scanners, and pacemakers.
- Home-use medical devices - Intended to be used in nonclinical settings. They require labeling for the user and training by a healthcare professional to be used safely and effectively. Examples of these devices include ventilators, nebulizers, wheelchairs, infusion pumps, and sleep apnea monitors.
- Consumer products - Devices that consumers can use on their own to manage health and improve their quality of life. These devices don’t require a health professional to use, and most can be purchased directly without a prescription. Examples of these products include pulse oximeters, glucometers, and blood pressure monitors.
In many cases, consumer-grade products don’t go through the FDA approval process. As a result, these devices have important limitations, such as the inability to accurately diagnose any medical condition.
Using RPM during the COVID-19 pandemic
A recent RPM study monitored patients with Covid-19 after hospital discharge. The RPM program was incorporated into the existing electronic health record, which enabled close monitoring by a team of nurses.
Using an app-based symptom assessment tool, each patient was reminded to complete specific surveys related to their health. They were also prompted to enter oxygen saturation data, as well as information about temperature and the answer to five questions related to symptoms.
The results of this study showed that the RPM program significantly decreased the risk of hospital readmission for participating patients. It was also shown that RPM could be used as an effective monitoring method for patients with Covid-19 after hospital discharge.
Still, many worry about the safety and privacy of RPM technologies in healthcare. Cybersecurity related to RPM must continue to evolve to better protect confidential patient data.
The use of remote patient monitoring technology is expected to continue growing as consumers demand more convenient and accessible options to manage their own health. As technology continues to evolve and improve, patients can expect wearable biosensors or noninvasive devices which can be incorporated into their healthcare experience.