When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, the health care industry had to find ways to serve patients without requiring them to break their quarantines. Non-essential face-to-face visits had to be reduced, which gave rise to telehealth. Unfortunately, telehealth visits lacked the necessary health vitals that are needed to aid in clinical decision-making. Remote patient monitoring (RPM) solutions quickly gained in popularity, providing care teams with the necessary missing piece needed to help patients improve health outcomes. All RPM solutions use connected devices to collect patient data, such as blood glucose, blood pressure, and weight, and send it directly to the provider’s electronic health record (EHR).
COVID-19 showed us the value of these tools, but it also shed light on health disparities throughout the country, particularly the digital divide. During this time, one key discovery that became evident is that older patients, patients in rural areas, and patients from low economic status may not have access to or the knowledge to use smartphones or the internet, a prerequisite for Bluetooth-enabled RPM devices. That means systems that rely on device access or technical skills necessary for these devices are sometimes out of reach. Through this finding, cellular-enabled RPM devices have emerged as a powerful solution.
The pandemic has revealed the need for provider teams to access patient vitals when they are at home, vividly showing us that RPM is here to stay as a convenient, accurate, and effective method of care for many vulnerable populations. However, the efficacy of RPM is directly dependent on using the right tools, so let’s take a closer look at cellular-enabled and Bluetooth RPM devices.
What Are Remote Patient Monitoring Devices?
Remote patient monitoring devices transmit patients’ health care data to health care providers. These devices collect medical data and other forms of health data with the help of technology. The data is then securely transmitted to health care providers in different locations. RPM works as an advanced method to monitor patients without a clinical visit. Remote care capabilities allow a patient’s provider team to enact treatment modifications before catastrophic events occur.
Health care providers can monitor patient vitals remotely and prescribe the best methods accordingly. Doctors can monitor simple blood pressure, weight, and glucose to more advanced diseases like heart conditions with remote patient monitoring devices. Potential RPM devices include wearable heart monitors, cellular weighing scales, glucose monitors, and more.
One of the primary benefits of RPM devices is that they integrate data directly with the provider’s EHR. If data isn’t put into an EHR, the chances that a provider will use it go down drastically. It could get lost in the shuffle or simply missed since it won’t be top-of-mind in the doctor’s medical software.
Integration with an EHR means the measurements that patients take at home are easily accessible to the clinician alongside other relevant data points. It proactively widens the dataset that providers can use to develop and adjust treatment protocol.
These devices have been a game-changer amid the pandemic, and the market is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 19.7% from 2021 to 2028. While they’ve been a big benefit for everyone who needs remote healthcare, it’s especially valuable for those with chronic conditions who need continuous monitoring. This is partially due to the remote care but also the ease of use, as many of these patients have difficulties with technology and may struggle from the nature of their illness.
Remote patient monitoring devices have also reduced stress related to treatment. A health care provider can manage several patients remotely, and families can still have a doctor available.
Why Is Remote Patient Monitoring Important?
Monitoring the condition of patients and communicating with them is an important step to recovery, healing and chronic condition management. Remote patient monitoring devices allow health care providers to monitor vitals and build a better understanding of a patient’s health. When providers and patients are on the same page, they can reduce stress-related to treatment.
With RPM, providers can monitor progression over time and receive alerts when vitals move out of a normal range. Typically, you’d only get access to this information when the patient visits the office, which might be once or a few times a year. Aside from collecting more data overall, RPM helps providers distinguish between readings that are out of range due to isolated situations or indications of abnormalities. It offers a more holistic approach to collecting patient vitals.
This information gives clinicians a better understanding of the patient’s progression and how their treatment plan should be modified to bring stats back into range. For patients with comorbidities, it can play a significant role in overall health.
Since older adult patients are more at risk of diseases, they require more attention. Remote patient monitoring provides care teams a deeper look into their patients’ health that is targeted towards obtaining actionable data that can be used to adjust care plans to ultimately improve health outcomes. Tracking patient vitals through RPM also helps identify when patient submitted vitals are out of their accepted range, allowing providers to intervene earlier and potentially reducing the occurrence of catastrophic health events.
Remote patient monitoring devices offer enhanced communication, transparency and the optimization of health care resources. According to a study published by the American Heart Association, the use of RPM can lead to improved treatment outcomes.
Types of Remote Patient Monitoring Devices
Health care providers use several types of remote patient monitoring devices. Some of the devices that are most commonly used are:
1. Blood Pressure Monitor
This device can monitor a patient’s blood pressure. It is easy to use — patients simply have to put their hands in the cuff. The machine will squeeze their arm for a moment and then deflate. Once the process is completed, it will display the vitals on the screen.
RPM blood pressure monitors are connected to the provider’s systems, and once the machine has collected the data, it is transmitted to the provider securely. Regular review of blood pressure can help diagnose other health-related conditions.
2. Glucose Monitor
Blood sugar monitoring is key to managing diabetes. Several studies have indicated the importance of monitoring glucose, as it is the only way to optimize insulin therapy. If patients have to visit labs frequently to get tested, they may miss a few appointments due to health conditions and other reasons. Devices like glucose monitors can eliminate this problem. With these home devices, patients can monitor their glucose in a timely manner and share the data with health care providers to receive better treatment.
These devices only require a drop of blood and display the result within moments. The patient can track their glucose level and assess the real-time results. RPM for diabetes management can be effective in assessing how the body is responding to medication and treatment. Patients can collect the data and share it with their health provider to work out a treatment plan.
3. Heart Rate Monitors
This device allows providers to check vitals like heartbeats per minute. Based on the results, they can advise the patient. An irregular heartbeat can be an indication of any underlying disease. Frequent irregularity may alert providers, and they can take action before the condition gets worse.
RPM heart monitors are small and portable devices that can securely record and transmit data to the healthcare provider. Regular monitoring allows the symptoms to be diagnosed sooner and may prevent life-threatening situations.
4. Pulse Oximeter
The pulse oximeter is a small device that can be attached to the finger, like a clip. Within minutes, it displays the blood oxygen level with a pulse. It measures the hemoglobin in oxygen-saturated blood and displays results on a small screen.
The pulse oximeter has been a fundamental device for decades. It is used to check the oxygen levels of patients with lung and heart conditions. It also enables doctors to determine if the patient needs oxygen therapy. The pulse oximeter has been beneficial in the COVID-19 pandemic as well. The virus can affect the oxygen level of a patient, and the oximeter reveals oxygen levels. These readings provide actionable data that providers can use to offer more informed treatment and identify potentially dangerous, out-of-range levels. This is one of the major advantages of cellular RPM devices in the post-COVID-19 world.
5. Smart Scale
Managing weight is essential in several diseases. A smart scale lets the patient monitor their weight and shares the data with providers. Clinicians can monitor the values and prescribe medicines or treatment if needed. This also enables clinicians to determine if the patients need to come for a physical examination.
Weight management is essential, as obesity can lead to several health conditions through a variety of mechanisms. It can raise risks for a long list of conditions that affect heart function, bone health, respiration, mental health, body pains and quality of life. Weight management is especially important for patients with heart disease. For many chronic issues, weight management can also be an important indicator of health. Sudden weight loss or weight gain are clear signals of problems for many patients and may be an early sign of an issue that can be addressed by the provider.
Patients after surgery or any treatment may also need to monitor their weight to determine the side effects of medication. An RPM scale allows the patient to monitor their weight and share it with their care provider without visiting the clinical staff.
Cellular Enabled vs. Bluetooth RPM Devices
Remote patient monitoring devices come in two types of technologies, cellular and Bluetooth enabled. Both technologies have advantages and limitations, and it is essential to understand them before making a choice.
The cellular remote patient monitoring devices use the same network as our cellphones to transmit data. These devices use the widespread network of cellular providers to transmit data. Bluetooth-enabled remote patient monitoring devices use short-range wireless communication that need access to the internet.
Both cellular and Bluetooth devices have their advantages and drawbacks, but cellular RPM devices provide a more accessible option for many patients. These devices transmit information via a cellular connection, similar to a phone, so they’ll work from anywhere that’s in range.
Here are some of the areas in which the two options differ:
- Setup: Older patients or those who are not tech-savvy are likely to struggle with the setup of a Bluetooth device, making it a big deterrent. Patients must go through a potentially complex pairing process on a smartphone and ensure the device stays connected. A cellular device is not a high-tech tool and requires no connection setup, making it suitable for people who have barely touched electronics. Patients tend to be much less frustrated and more likely to continue to use cellular-enabled devices — a factor that’s especially important when managing chronic conditions.
- Internet requirements: Pew Research shows that in 2021, just 64% of Americans 65 and older had internet at home, as did 57% of adults with household incomes of less than $30,000 and 72% of adults living in rural communities. Bluetooth devices require an internet connection, making them practically unusable for patients that fall into these categories. Cellular RPMs do not require an internet connection, and they’ll work outside the home.
- Speed: Cellular remote patient monitoring devices are fast — and getting faster with the rise of 5G. They can transmit data straight away and record it. Health care providers receive the data almost instantly, allowing them to take immediate action when necessary. Bluetooth devices often require users to log into an app before submitting their data over to their provider. Providers don’t get those immediate updates, and the process adds an extra step for patients to remember, which could greatly affect compliance.
- Price: While Bluetooth devices do tend to be cheaper than cellular ones, you often get what you pay for. The additional costs of cellular RPM devices help to support a stronger connectivity network and ease of use, two important components required for continued use and maximizing clinical benefits. Many providers find the benefits of cellular RPM devices are well worth the cost.
Both devices have their place, but the benefits of cellular RPM devices tend to win out in health care settings.
Select the Most Reliable Remote Patient Monitoring Device for Your Patients
The health care industry has been evolving rapidly as new technological advancements have become essential to improve the sector. Remote patient monitoring devices are a step in the right direction.
Both Bluetooth-enabled and cellular-enabled devices have pros and cons, but cellular RPM devices are considered superior over Bluetooth RPM devices. Their benefits make cellular RPM devices a great tool in eliminating concerns about patient compliance due to lack of knowledge or access, whether due to socioeconomic status, age, location or technical skill. Addressing this factor can take your practice a long way in combating disparity and inequality in patient care.
TimeDoc Health offers remote patient monitoring solutions that let you check up on your patients in real-time. Request a demo today and improve your patients’ comfort, security and safety with the best RPM devices.