Healthcare News & Insights

RPM’s role in COVID-19

Remote patient monitoring (RPM) solutions have been emerging within the market for several years, and several studies evaluated and found RPM to improve treatment and access to ongoing care, patient satisfaction, and healthcare costs. Despite the success and proven effectiveness, providers in the past have been slow to adapt to RPM. The changing landscape and challenges of the pandemic have drastically increased the urgency to adopt RPM solutions. Companies specializing in remote medical wearable solutions have seen a significant increase in demand for remote monitoring solutions from providers and pharmaceutical companies. Many experts expect the RPM market to double in approximately five years.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, RPM has offered solutions to multiple challenges facing hospitals, clinics and pharmaceutical manufacturers. From reducing readmissions to hospitals and addressing the drop in routine appointments to enabling clinical trials to continue with contactless monitoring, RPM has shown its value in more ways than one.

Addressing canceled routine appointments

In early April, at the height of the pandemic, the number of routine outpatient visits declined by nearly 60 percent. More recent studies have shown a rebound in patient visits, but several specialties are still significantly lower than pre-pandemic levels. This reduction is understandable as individuals have done everything possible to avoid exposure to high-risk areas, which is vital for patients with weakened immune systems. However, the decrease in patient care introduced severe threats to individuals’ continued health and wellness, particularly for those with chronic illnesses requiring ongoing treatment.

For example, RPM is particularly useful for cancer patients. Neutropenic fever is a common occurrence in patients recovering from chemotherapy. But it’s often missed because patients are either reluctant to report new symptoms or lack the energy to continually monitor their vitals. Instead, chemo patients can wear a multi-vital wearable patches remotely while recovering from home, allowing oncologists to track and correlate multiple vitals to predict infections in advance.

Reducing hospital readmissions

RPM can reduce unplanned hospital readmissions, which cost hospitals billions. Each year, 4.8 million cancer-related hospitalizations cost the healthcare system over $58 billion, and 20 to 50 percent of hospitalizations are avoidable with improved monitoring and patient management. Remote, wearable multi-vital monitoring solutions use predictive algorithms to offer decision support and notifications for personalized, early intervention, avoiding costly hospital readmissions.

Another example of how RPM can enable continued patient care outside of the hospital is its ability to supplement a six-minute walk test, a common protocol with cardiopulmonary patients undergoing treatment. This test monitors patient response to medical or surgical interventions for heart, lung and other health problems. With RPM, patients can perform the test from home, and be remotely monitored by a clinician. The wearable sensor automatically transmits data such as respiratory rate, heart rate, ECG, and more to the practicing physician. Data is collected via a mobile app and sent to the cloud, where it is analyzed remotely, reducing the patients’ exposure to high-risk interactions.

Powering remote clinical trials during COVID-19

RPM continues to prove its use in monitoring patients during clinical trials, particularly with current limitations due to COVID-19. The pandemic has slowed down clinical trials due to proximity and cross-contamination issues by 30 to 50 percent in some cases. This barrier has forced researchers to either stop developing life-saving medications or adopt innovative solutions to continue their trials.

Virtual clinical trials are leveraging telehealth technologies such as RPM and wearable devices to conduct safe and efficient research amid the pandemic. RPM is also reducing the cost by allowing clinicians to monitor patient vitals remotely rather than having the patient expend time and resources to visit a research facility. Monitoring remotely allows for the pool of patients eligible for the trial to increase drastically – as higher risk and non-local participants can take part – which can speed up trial results and allow researchers to develop a vaccine more efficiently.

Clinical trials can provide hospitals with economic incentives as they often serve as the researchers’ connection to qualifying participants. This only works, however, if the trial does not disrupt the hospitals’ regular operations. In-person, clinical trials are costly, disruptive, and inconvenient for patients and, therefore, pose a significant barrier to hospitals’ participation. A recent pharma trial used a wearable RPM device because of their ease of use and device simplicity. The researchers, who planned to host the trial across 20 U.S. and multiple international sites, were challenged with the logistical support of so many sites. The simplicity of its wireless products, designed to be comfortably worn by the user, minimized the operational impact, allowing researchers to monitor participants’ vitals from a central location.

The rising challenges of COVID-19 have increased the need to adopt innovative solutions such as remote patient monitoring. While RPM has been around for several years, the urgency to adopt this solution has taken a front seat due to the many challenges faced in 2020. RPM has the advantage of being an emerging solution without the problems associated with new, untested technology. Its longevity in the market creates higher reliability because the technology has had time to improve. The RPM market’s future is bright and will continue to grow in 2021 as healthcare professionals discover new applications to the solution.

Author: Jiang Li, Ph.D., is the founder and CEO of VivaLNK a provider of connected healthcare solutions for wellness, patient care, and telemedicine.

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