Early indications show that remote patient monitoring holds promise in advancing value-based care. But healthcare providers and practice managers need to consider several factors before they begin to integrate RPM and wearables into their practices and decision-making processes.

U.S. healthcare providers are increasingly turning to wearable devices and remote patient monitoring (RPM) technology to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs. This is spurring healthcare industry newcomers and legacy players alike to rush to develop new wearables and functionality.

Early indications show that RPM holds promise in advancing value-based care. But healthcare providers and practice managers need to consider several factors before they begin to integrate RPM and wearables into their practices and decision-making processes.

RPM and wearables hold promise for chronic disease management

According to industry projections, RPM technology will become ubiquitous in the coming years. Insider Intelligence estimates 70.6 million patients in the U.S., or 26.2% of the population, will use RPM technology by 2025.

As the industry moves toward a value-based care model, virtual health is playing a role in containing costs, solving inequity in care access, and improving efficiency and quality. RPM technology extends provider reach and offers a continuous stream of real-time patient health data to help inform treatment plans.

According to the American Hospital Association’s 2022 Environmental Scan, 56% of patients who own wearable technology believe the data collected is valuable and want to send it directly from their device to the doctor’s office.

The FDA has already approved select devices for this purpose, and payers like Medicare have begun to cover more telehealth services such as remote patient monitoring. They recognize RPM systems’ potential for generating savings by preventing more severe and costly health outcomes from taking root among those with chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.

A KLAS Research report found that 38% of healthcare organizations currently offering remote patient monitoring programs focused on chronic care management reported reduced admissions, while 17% cited cost reductions.

Findings from Juniper Research predict wearable devices will become “must haves” in healthcare. Still, providers need to do their due diligence before integrating RPM.

Below are some tips to help providers mitigate risk concerns accompanying remote patient monitoring initiatives.

Patient selection and onboarding

Not all patients are appropriate candidates for remote monitoring. A good starting point is to identify the conditions the provider is willing and able to monitor remotely. Common conditions that are eligible for remote patient monitoring are high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and kidney disease.

Once patients are identified as appropriate candidates, practices should provide education on how to use and maintain the device, when and how often to transmit the data, what to do if the device malfunctions, and how the healthcare team will manage alerts. Providers are responsible for clearly outlining expectations, roles and responsibilities regarding wearables. In addition, providers must address informed consent for using the technology and thoroughly document the discussion in the medical record.

Device selection and governance

All wearable devices and remote patient monitoring technologies are not created equal. Providers can supply their own RPM devices, but this involves distributing devices to patients, patient education, setup and troubleshooting, and data transmission.

One option might be to contract with RPM vendors who ship devices directly to patients, guide patients through device setup and education, troubleshoot any difficulties and answer questions. Medical record documentation of the vendor providing the education and the patient’s understanding of the same is key. Before entering into an agreement, be sure to evaluate all vendors for compliance with federal and state privacy and confidentiality regulations.

Managing patient data

Receiving, analyzing and following up on wearable data can be challenging for practices. If the organization is not well-equipped to interact with this technology, it can lead to claims for failure to monitor, failure to detect or missed diagnosis.

It is vital to set up a monitoring system that enables secure and reliable data transmission into workflows in the patient’s medical record. For example, organizations managing patients with congestive heart failure will need to connect wireless scales and blood pressure cuffs to the system and accompany this with continuous data monitoring.

Healthcare wearables are vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks. Providers should not rely solely on the device manufacturer to ensure security. Instead, clinicians should take steps to safeguard patient information within their own network. That includes ensuring compliance with FDA guidance and properly encrypting data transmissions to meet the requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Staffing requirements to support alert monitoring are also critical. Providers should establish a process overseen by a designated, qualified healthcare professional and team to monitor and quickly respond to all incoming RPM data and alerts. All employees who support remote patient monitoring should receive remote monitoring-specific privacy and security training and education on the dangers of “alert fatigue,” which leads staff to ignore or override an overwhelming number of incoming alerts.

RPM risk can be managed

While these risks will likely not hinder the adoption of remote patient monitoring, it’s critical for organizations to know how to mitigate them. As wearable technology and remote patient monitoring gain traction, devices and data flow will become more accurate and support an even broader range of health conditions.

Providers and practice managers must stay abreast of the evolving technology and regulation landscapes. Helpful resources include literature regarding approved uses and FDA alerts, updates and recalls. It is also important to rely on your professional team – engaging legal counsel and your medical/cyber liability carrier to discuss changes to your practice’s policies related to the integration of RPM.

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MedCityNews | March 23, 2022

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